The MSC Fisheries Standard is the leading international standard for sustainable fishing and is used to assess if fisheries are well-managed and environmentally sustainable.
Our Standard is based on the United Nations FAO guidelines for ecolabelling and reflects the most up-to-date understanding of fisheries science and best practice in fisheries management.
We regularly review our Standard to ensure it remains the leading measure of fisheries sustainability. The latest version of our Standard (version 3.0) was published in October 2022, following the most comprehensive review to date.
The most recent Standard (version 3.0) contains significant improvements to help address some of the most difficult issues facing the oceans, including better protections for marine biodiversity and incentivizing stronger ocean governance.
We have also clarified language, refined existing tools, and developed new guidance to ensure our Standard can be applied efficiently and is increasingly accessible to all fisheries around the world.
Find out more about the key changes below.
How the MSC Standard has changed
The current Standard has incorporated revisions and clarifications which reflect consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, impact analyses and independent research. This includes:
Implementation of stock-wide harvest strategies
New requirements have been introduced for fisheries managed by Regional Fisheries Management Authorities (RFMOs), including those targeting tuna, to develop effective stock-wide harvest strategies.
In acknowledgement of the longer timeframes needed by RFMOs to agree to and implement changes, fisheries will be given a longer to develop and adopt harvest strategies and will be required to meet specific milestones. However, to counterbalance this longer timeframe, fisheries must achieve a higher level of performance (SG 100) by the end of the process.
Greater protection for marine species
We have strengthened our requirements to ensure that impacts on endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) species are reduced and populations that have been impacted are allowed to recover.
A new process for classifying species will ensure that more species are considered as ETP during an assessment and providing additional safeguards that fisheries must comply with to avoid bycatch or entanglements. These requirements will now cover all marine mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles – species that cannot be targeted by MSC certified fisheries.
We have also updated our Risk-Based Framework, a tool used to support the assessment of well-managed but data-limited fisheries, to ensure that a precautionary approach is taken during assessments and that outcomes are more accurate.
Reducing gear loss and ghost gear impacts
Our requirements have been strengthened to ensure the impacts of ghost gear are explicitly considered during every fishery assessment. Fisheries must also have effective measures in place to minimize gear loss and mitigate the impact of any lost gear. These requirements now apply to fish aggregating devices (FADs): fisheries will need to account for any lost FADs and demonstrate how they are avoiding and managing losses.
Protecting habitats and ecosystems
We have clarified our requirements to ensure fisheries are not causing serious or irreversible harm to sensitive marine habitats and ecosystems. This includes clarifying how the sensitivity of a habitat should be assessed, based on the time it takes to
recover from the impacts of fishing.
Clarified requirements and new guidance will also ensure that fishery impacts on key low trophic level species are assessed more consistently and that a precautionary approach is taken. This will also ensure that fisheries targeting such stocks, such as sardines, anchovies, and krill, are not impacting the wider ecosystem.
Shark finning prevention
We have strengthened our requirements to further ensure that the abhorrent practice of shark finning is not taking place in MSC certified fisheries. All fisheries that retain sharks will now be required to have a Fins Naturally Attached policy in place, with no exceptions.
Our new shark finning requirements also clarify our definition of a shark, which has been extended to cover all species most vulnerable to shark finning.
Evaluating the quality of evidence used to assess fisheries
We have developed a new tool - the Evidence Requirements Framework - to ensure that the evidence used to assess a fishery is of a consistently high standard.
The tool will ensure assessors can better evaluate the quality of information used to score a fishery. It will support the assessment of fisheries’ environmental impacts, including adherence to shark finning requirements, and compliance with management regulations.
We have also clarified our guidance for the assessment of fisheries’ monitoring, control, and surveillance systems, which will help ensure best practice is being applied and make assessments more consistent.
Improved Standard efficiency
We have simplified language throughout the Standard and removed redundant or ambiguous requirements to make assessments more efficient. This includes significant clarifications across Principle 2, where 15 scoring issues were removed.
We have clarified our guidance to support the assessment of fisheries with highly fluctuating stocks and those targeting short-lived species, such as cephalopods and crabs. The year-on-year variability of such stocks means assessments can be challenging and a precautionary approach must be taken. We have also improved the readability of our modified assessment trees for salmon, bivalves, and introduced species.
New guidance has also been provided on the assessment of inseparable or practicably inseparable species. Using a five-year average reference point will improve understanding of the composition of the catch and ensure assessments are more precautionary.
New eligibility criteria
To ensure only fisheries fully committed to sustainability can be assessed against our Standard, we have introduced new scope criteria. Vessels involved in or convicted of fraud or serious maritime crimes will be ineligible for assessment. This is in addition to the pre-existing exclusion of fisheries convicted of forced and child labor violations or shark finning.
More information on the changes to our Standard
In addition to the new Standard and guidance, we have published the following documents, which highlight the specific changes made and enable Version 3.0 to be compared with Version 2.01
- MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0 with tracked changes
- MSC Change Tracking report for Fisheries Standard version 3.0
If you have any questions, please contact your local MSC Fisheries Representative or [email protected].
Implementing the new Standard
These revisions to our Standard will drive progress in sustainable fishing and will contribute to accelerating the delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To ensure that progress can be made sooner, we have introduced a new policy that requires all certified fisheries to have completed reassessment, or a transition assessment, to the new version of the Standard by 01 November 2028.
Fisheries seeking certification for the first time after 01 May 2023 will be assessed against the new version.