It’s vital that everyone, from fishers to retailers, scientists to consumers, has confidence in the MSC blue fish label.
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
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.
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.
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.
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, focusing 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 Jake Rice
Chief Scientist-Emeritus, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada. Expert in fisheries science and management, conservation of biodiversity, and international policy and governance.
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.
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.
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, 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 (both during the site visit and submitted in writing), and independent scientific input including from peer reviewers.
The individuals on the 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 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.
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.”
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 labeling 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 runs the first certification program for wild caught seafood to be recognized 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 organizations 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.
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 systematic and objective evaluation of the standards' effects and impacts
- There are measures to integrate new information and encourage ongoing improvement
- Monitoring and evaluation is in place to demonstrate the impacts of the program.
We're regularly audited to ensure that we meet these codes.
For 70 years, the International Standards Organization (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
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.