Our approach to data-limited fisheries

The MSC is working to make its program accessible to well-managed fisheries even if they only have limited scientific data.

We realise that many well-managed fisheries might not have the sort of data on the species they catch or the places they fish that are usually used in assessments. This includes traditionally operated small-scale fisheries and those in the Global South.

To allow such fisheries to be assessed against the technical performance indicators in the MSC Fisheries Standard we have developed a Risk-Based Framework (RBF). This uses information from workshops with fishery stakeholders and any available data to enable fisheries to develop sustainable fishing management plans.

The Risk-Based Framework can be used for different performance indicators in the Standard, including around stock status and endangered, threatened and protected species. For example, if a fishery does not have data about the species they catch, or their habitat or ecosystem impacts, they can use the Risk-Based Framework to assess these impacts.


How does the Risk-Based Framework work?

The Risk-Based Framework (RBF) relies on information collected in workshops with fishery stakeholders, and any data available from the fishery.  

There are four tools that can be used to assess different aspects of fishing activity:

• Consequence Analysis (CA) uses any available data to assess trends in the target stocks of a fishery 
• Productivity Susceptibility Analysis (PSA) assesses how likely a stock is to recover when depleted, as well as how likely other species are to interact with fishing gear 
• Consequence Spatial Analysis (CSA) aims to identify how habitats may be affected by fishing activity 
• Scale Intensity Consequence Analysis (SICA) aims to identify the impacts the fishery has on the wider ecosystem

Each of these methods produces a score that can be included in an assessment report or benchmarking tool. This can then be compared with the default assessment criteria in the Standard.

Who should use the Risk-Based Framework?

The Risk-Based Framework (RBF) can be used in any fishery assessment. But it’s better to use the default assessment method where possible, as the RBF’s precautionary methods will likely result in lower scores for fisheries that have access to data instead.   

If a certification body decide to use the Risk-Based Framework, they must announce this at the beginning of assessment and allow stakeholders to comment.

When should the Risk-Based Framework be used?

The Risk-Based Framework (RBF) is used only where it is needed. The certification body will use the RBF for specific indicators associated with status, where a fishery cannot be scored against the default assessment method because there isn’t enough data. For other indicators where there is enough data, scoring will follow the default assessment method.

The RBF does not cover the assessment of management, which is Principle 3 of the Fisheries Standard. A data-limited fisheries' management will be assessed and scored the same way as any other fishery. 

Does limited data mean fisheries are poorly managed?

No. Many data limited fisheries may be very well managed using precautionary management measures. Where they lack quantitative data there is a rigorous assessment of risk and worst case scenarios instead.

How was the Risk-Based Framework developed?

The Risk-Based Framework (RBF) method was originally developed by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in its Ecological Risk Assessment for Effects of Fishing (ERAEF). 

In 2008 we adapted it for the MSC Fisheries Standard and trialled it in seven pilot fisheries around the world. Following the outcome of the trial, we consulted risk-based assessment experts to finalise the framework, which was integrated into the Standard in 2009.


Latest developments

There are many fisheries that use the Risk-Based Framework to be assessed against our Standard. For example, the recently certified Asturias octopus fishery in Spain used the Risk-Based Framework to assess the stock status of their octopus. 


Improving our Standards

It is important the Risk-Based Framework remains precautionary and robust. We are currently looking at how the Risk-Based Framework helps data-deficient fisheries enter the program and whether this is the most effective approach.

What could change?

We are looking at whether it would be helpful to develop new guidance for the Risk-Based Framework. We are also considering whether to accept the use of other data-limited methods in MSC fishery assessments.

Our intentions in the Standard to deliver robust, precautionary and consistent outcomes in assessments will not change. But we have identified areas where the Standard could be made clearer, including removing redundant requirements around the Risk-Based Framework. We want to make sure that the Risk-Based framework reflects the intentions set out in the default tree performance indicators that assessors use when deciding if a fishery should be certified.

When would changes to the Standard happen?

If any part of the Standard is revised, a new version will be released in March 2022. The MSC Board of Trustees will make the final decision on implementation of any change, with the development process set out in the Fisheries Standard Review.

Get involved

To be notified when consultation opens, please register your interest in the Fisheries Standard Review. Information about future events, such as targeted consultations and workshops, will also be posted here.

For other questions on the Risk-Based Framework and requirements for data-limited fisheries please email us at standards@msc.org.

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