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

Ensuring confidence

We have safeguards in place so you can have confidence in the MSC label. These safeguards make up what we call the MSC assurance system. This system is used to make sure the assessment process for fisheries and supply chain businesses is working and meets best practice. 

Best practice in fishery assessments

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

Independent certification

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

Fishery assessments are carried out by 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 is a third-party program?

Third-party programs offer the highest level of assurance that the outcomes of assessments are unbiased. The MSC, in consultation with stakeholders, sets Standards for sustainable fisheries and supply chains. The assessments are carried out by independent CABs following processes that are set by the MSC. 

Here’s how our program compares to other forms of certification: 

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

How we meet best practice

How we meet best practice

Additional safeguards

Even though third-party certification is widely regarded as the most trustworthy system for objective assessments, there can still be risks to the integrity of the system. These can include real or perceived conflicts of interest.

To mitigate these risks, the MSC has built in assurance safeguards:

  • 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.
  • Publishing assessment reports on our Track a Fishery website.
  • Including independent peer review to check the expert judgement within fishery assessments.

Peer review college

To ensure the consistency and independence of the MSC fishery certification process, all fishery assessment reports are peer-reviewed by independent scientists from the MSC’s Peer Review College. 

The Peer Review College assigns two peer reviewers to check each fishery assessment report. These reviewers are selected for their knowledge of the relevant fishery type and freedom from any conflicts of interest. 

These scientists comment on the draft scores given to a fishery. They also highlight any information missing from the CAB’s rationale for the scoring. Any issues raised by the peer reviewers must be considered and responded to by the CAB in the next version of the report that goes out to public comment and for a follow-up review by the peer reviewers. 

Learn more about the Peer Review College or read the full Peer Review College Structures & Procedures.

Other safeguards include:

To maintain its impartiality and independence, the Peer Review College has an oversight committee that is appointed by the MSC Board of Trustees.

Two or more external peer review quality assessors are also used to verify the candidates for each fishery assessment and provide quality assurance on selected reviews.

Oversight Committee

Dr Keith Sainsbury Professor at University of Tasmania, consultant through SainSolutions and Commissioner with the Australian Fishery Management Authority. Expert in fishery assessment and fishery management systems, including ecosystem-based approaches.

Dr Tim Essington
Professor of Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington, focussing on fisheries, aquatic ecology, predator-prey interaction, ecological modelling and food webs.

Mr Jose Augusto Pinto de Abreu
Managing Director of Sextante Consultoria, expert on management systems, standardization and regulation, conformity assessment, risk management, and sustainability.

Ms Heather Brayford Deputy Director General, Sustainability and Biosecurity, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Government of Western Australia. Expert on fisheries management systems and national-level engagement with the MSC program.

Dr Howard Browman Principal Research Scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.  Long experience as Editor-in-Chief of marine and fisheries science journals and expert on best practice in scientific publishing, including ethics. 

Peer Review Quality Assessors 

Dr Bob Trumble
Independent consultant, recently retired from the CAB, MRAG Americas as head of its MSC Certification Program. Expert on fisheries science and management.

Mr Eskild Kirkegaard 
Independent consultant, recently retired from the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES), Chair of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2014-2018.  Expert on fisheries science and management. 

Dr Kevin Stokes
Independent consultant, having worked at senior levels in UK government and New Zealand industry. Current chair of the Scientific Committee of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT). Expert in fisheries science and management with extensive MSC assessment experience.

Mr Tom Jagielo
Independent consultant, previously chair of the Scientific and Statistical Committee of the Pacific Fishery Management Council and of the US/Canada Groundfish Technical Subcommittee. Expert on quantitative analysis and fisheries population dynamics, with extensive MSC assessment experience.

There are many opportunities for stakeholders to contribute to a fishery assessment. Stakeholder input makes sure that assessments are balanced and reflect all available information.

To facilitate stakeholder involvement, a fishery assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard includes:

-  an early announcement of assessments to give stakeholders time to participate

-  mandatory opportunities for stakeholder input to assessments

-  a stage where CABs are required to actively seek out, consider and respond to stakeholder input

-  a requirement that every stage in an individual fishery assessment process is made public on the MSC Track a Fishery website.

-  an objection and complaints procedure so stakeholders who have an issue with the way an assessment has been carried out can raise official objections or complaints.

For a fishery to become certified, the 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 (both during the site visit and submitted in writing) and independent scientific input including from peer reviewers. 

Qualified assessors

The individuals on an assessment team might have different skills to ensure they are qualified for conducting the assessment. The 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 their own 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.



Best practice in 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.

The MSC Fisheries Standard is based in part on the UN FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. The Code provides principles and standards for the conservation, management and development of fisheries around the world.

The MSC's certification and labelling program is fully consistent with the UN FAO's internationally-agreed set of principles for ecolabelling of wild caught seafood. These include:

-  objective, third-party fishery assessment using scientific evidence

-  transparent processes with built-in stakeholder consultation and objection procedures

-  standards based on the three factors - sustainability of target species, ecosystems and management practices.

The MSC is recognised by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), an independent benchmark for the credibility of sustainable seafood certification programs. GSSI was developed by a coalition of environmental NGOs, global businesses, industry experts, governments and intergovernmental organisations and is based on UN FAO codes and guidelines. 

The MSC program meets all the essential components of the GSSI benchmark, and a further 63 supplementary components relating to issues such as deep-sea fishing and vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Read the full GSSI report

We are the only wild seafood certification program to be a full member of ISEAL, the global membership association for credible sustainability standards.

As an ISEAL member, we comply with their highly regarded codes for Standard setting, assurance and impact monitoring. These require that:

-  standards are set in open, transparent and participatory processes

-  rigorous assurance mechanisms are in place to mitigate risks of non-compliance

-  there is a systematic and objective evaluation of the standards' effects and impacts

-  there are measures to integrate new information and encourage ongoing improvement

-  monitoring and evaluation are in place to demonstrate the impacts of the program.

We're regularly audited to ensure that we meet these codes.

Other full members of ISEAL include Rainforest AllianceFairtrade International and the Forest Stewardship Council.

For 70 years, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has published standards for companies and certifiers globally. Over 1 million companies are certified to ISO standards including the standard for quality management (ISO 9001). 

The following ISO standards are built into the MSC’s assurance system. They define controls on conflict of interest, complaint resolution and accrediting a CAB. 

ISO 17011 - Accreditation

ISO 17065 - Certification

ISO 19011 – Auditing

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement exists to ensure standards and regulations do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. ISEAL has sought a legal opinion from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) which confirms that all organisations consistent with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice, are not technical barriers to trade.



Additional recognition of best practice

In addition to meeting international guidelines and Standards 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 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. Work areas include assurance oversight, strengthening auditor training and scrutinising conflict of interest controls.

Read more about the MSC Assurance Review