How we meet best practice

It’s vital that everyone, from fishers to retailers, scientists to consumers, has confidence in the MSC blue fish label.

Ensuring Confidence

We have multiple checks 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 and certification of fisheries and supply chain businesses is working and meets best global practice.

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


Best Practice in Fishery Assessments

Independent certification

The MSC is a third-party certification program. This means we do not assess or certify fisheries, but only set the standard they have to meet.

Fishery assessments are carried out by independent accredited conformity assessment bodies (CABs) with teams of experts in fisheries science and management who are independent of the fishery and the MSC. 

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 the independent assessors following processes that are set by the MSC.  

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

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

The MSC receives no money for assessments or certifications.

Additional safeguards

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

To mitigate these risks, we have built in additional safeguards, including:

  • Appointing Assurance Services International (ASI) as an external oversight body for conformity assessment bodies (CABs)
  • Ensuring assessors 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 publication of all assessment reports on our Track a Fishery website
  • Including independent peer review to check the expert judgment 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:

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 an independent third-party assessor.

This means all seafood sold with the MSC blue fish label can be traced back to a certified sustainable source. A traceable supply chain also helps to fight seafood fraud. 

Despite high rates of reported seafood fraud globally, DNA testing has shown that mislabeling rates for MSC labeled seafood are less than 1%. This shows that our third-party verification systems are working and means consumers can trust that what they are eating really is what it says on the package. 

Our Chain of Custody Standard sets us apart from other sustainable seafood initiatives, such as ratings cards. The MSC outperforms all other wild-capture fisheries certification programs recognized by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI).

“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. 

Additional recognition of best practice

In addition to meeting international norms and guidelines, our program is well regarded by numerous international organizations that scrutinize the role of standard setting in safeguarding our oceans.

Global leaders in ocean sustainability

The UN recognizes the MSC as a major ocean stakeholder, and we directly contribute to the work of UN bodies such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization).

Data from the MSC is used by the UN Environment Progam and other intergovernmental organizations to track progress towards international goals to end overfishing and protect biodiversity, including the UN Convention on Biodiversity’s Aichi Targets.

We also have a key role to play in helping companies and governments achieve the United Nations Environment Program’s Sustainable Development Goals by providing best practice guidance for 'what good looks like' in a specific industry.


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.

Read more about the MSC Assurance system

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