How we meet best practice

It’s vital that everyone, from fishers to retailers, scientists to consumers, has confidence in the blue MSC label and the credibility of the claims made by certified organisations.

 

Our assurance system

The MSC, in consultation with stakeholders, sets standards for sustainable fisheries and traceable seafood supply chains. 

The MSC assurance system is how we make sure the assessment process for fisheries and supply chain businesses is working and meets best practice.

 

Assurance for fishery assessments

Under the MSC program, fisheries can get certified if they meet the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Independent certification

The MSC operates a third-party certification program. This means we do not assess or certify fisheries. 

Fishery assessments are carried out by teams of auditors who are experts in fisheries science and management and are independent of the fishery and the MSC. The certification process is managed by an independent conformity assessment body (also known as a CAB). 

What does third-party mean?

Third-party programs offer the highest level of assurance that the outcomes of assessments are unbiased. Here’s how they compare to other forms of certification: 

  • First party: An organisation self-assesses if its product or service meets a standard
  • Second-party: Peers, such as an industry association or a buyer, check if the organisation’s product or service has met the standard
  • Third-party: An independent assessment shows that the organisation’s product or service meets the standard

The MSC, in consultation with stakeholders, sets standards for sustainable fisheries and supply chains. The independent assessments are carried out by the CABs, following specific processes that are also set by MSC. 

This third-party system means consumers can be confident that the outcomes of assessments are free from the influence of either the client or the MSC.

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How we meet best practice

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Safeguards

Third-party certification is widely regarded as the most trustworthy system for objective assessments. However, there can still be risks to the integrity of the system – such as real or perceived conflicts of interest – and these must be mitigated.

The MSC has introduced over 30 assurance safeguards over the years, built into our third-party certification model. These include:

  • Appointing Assurance Services International (ASI) as an external oversight body for CABs
  • Ensuring CABs follow ISO 17065, an international standard used in many sectors including food safety, to ensure that assessment teams operate in a competent, consistent and impartial manner
  • Providing mandatory online training and relevant qualification requirements for assessors
  • The inclusion of independent peer review to check the expert judgement within fishery assessments
  • The publication of all assessment reports on our Track a Fishery website

Read more about how we’re maintaining best practice.

Stakeholder participation

There are multiple opportunities for stakeholders to contribute to specific fishery assessments. This helps to ensure assessments are balanced, evidence-based and reflect all available information.

To facilitate stakeholder input in assessments the MSC has introduced additional measures including:

  • Early announcement of assessments to give stakeholders time to participate
  • Mandatory opportunities for stakeholder input to assessments
  • CABs are required to actively seek out, consider and respond to stakeholder input
  • All assessment reports are freely available online
  • Every stage in an individual fishery assessment process is made public on the MSC Track a Fishery website

If stakeholders have an issue with the way an assessment has been carried out, they can raise official objections or complaints.

Independent scientific input

For a fishery to become certified, an assessment team reviews all the evidence received during the assessment process. 

This includes evidence from the fishery, a site visit with staff interviews, input from stakeholders during the site visit and submitted in writing, and independent scientific input including from peer reviewers. 

Assessment teams can be part of a CAB, or they can be hired by a CAB to complete specific assessments.

Qualified assessors

The individuals on the team might have different skills to ensure they are qualified for conducting the assessment, and MSC requires the assessors to: 

  • Complete extensive online training
  • Have at least 5 years’ experience in the fisheries sector and a relevant degree
  • Be a qualified auditor or pass training on how to audit 

CABs also have further assurance systems in place. For example, assessors must submit their reports to the CAB for further review. A second qualified person within the CAB takes the final decision on whether to certify a fishery.

Expert peer review

To ensure the consistency, independence and impartiality of the MSC fishery certification process, all fishery assessment reports are peer-reviewed by independent scientists. 

For example, the scientists might comment on the scores a fishery received, or on any information that seems to be missing in the CAB’s rationale for the scoring. Any issues raised by the peer reviewers must be considered and responded to by the CAB.

The Peer Review College

The MSC strengthened the peer review process by formally establishing an independent Peer Review College from 1 September 2017, following an 18-month pilot phase. 

The College currently includes around 90 experts in marine science and fisheries management, enabling each assessment to be checked by members with expertise in the relevant field, and without a conflict of interest. The Peer Review College normally assigns two peer reviewers to check each fishery assessment report.  

To maintain its impartiality and independence, the College has an Oversight Committee that is appointed by the MSC Board of Trustees.  Two additional third-party experts also verify the candidates for each review and provide quality assurance. 

Learn more about the Peer Review College

The Peer Review College Oversight Committee reviews the performance of the peer review system at least once a year. Peer reviewer’s comments are checked by the third-party experts along with the responses made by the CABs. If any issues are identified, the College can provide targeted training to the reviewers or make changes to improve the system. 

 

Assurance for supply chain traceability

All companies that buy and sell certified seafood comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard. As with fisheries, these companies are certified by a third-party audit. 

This means all seafood sold with the MSC blue fish label can be traced back to a certified sustainable source. This is important because around 30% of seafood globally is mislabelled. DNA testing has shown that mislabelling rates for MSC labelled seafood are less than 1%. 

A traceable supply chain is necessary to fight seafood fraud. It means consumers can trust that what they are eating really is what it says on the packet. 

Our Chain of Custody Standard set us apart from other sustainable seafood initiatives, such as ratings cards, that don’t guarantee traceability.

“Certification provides the highest level of assurance that the product is verified to be sustainable, is harvested legally, and is traceable back to its source.”  

- Certification and Ratings Collaboration

 

 

 

Compliance with external bodies

We go to great lengths to ensure we meet the highest international benchmarks for credible certification and ecolabeling. 

Our program is the only global wild seafood certification program to be aligned with all the following international norms:

 

 

Additional recognition of best practice

In addition to meeting international norms and guidelines for best practice, our program is well regarded by numerous international organisations who scrutinise the role of standard setting in safeguarding our oceans.

Global leaders in ocean sustainability

The MSC and other credible standard setters are seen to have a key role to play in helping companies and governments to achieve the United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals by providing best practice guidance for 'what good looks like' in a specific industry.

MSC certification is used as an indicator in the UN Convention on Biodiversity’s Aichi Targets. Part of the UN’s decade-long initiative to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2020, these targets were widely consulted with the international conservation and governance community.

 

Maintaining best practice

Just as we develop our standards in accordance with the latest scientific understanding, we periodically review our entire program.

The MSC is currently reviewing the assurance system to increase its effectiveness and address real or perceived issues within the system.

The review is focused on key work areas running from 2018-2020.

  • Assurance Oversight: The first step is to review the overall assurance system and identify any quick wins. This includes strengthening our training programs, improving our Quality Management System, scrutinising conflict of interest controls and more focus on data monitoring. 
  • Certification Process Review: In the medium term, we have identified three key areas of the certification process for review: the closing and tracking of conditions, the objections process and dispute resolution mechanism for stakeholders in fisheries assessments. Improving these processes could help ensure fishery assessments are fair and lead to better outcomes.
  • Standard Review: On a longer timescale, we are addressing a number of different aspects of the MSC Fisheries Standard through the Fisheries Standard Review.

Read more about the MSC Assurance System

 

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