Our approach to data-limited fisheries

To keep the MSC program accessible to data-limited fisheries, we have developed a set of precautionary assessment indicators called the Risk-Based Framework (RBF).

The MSC Fisheries Standard’s strong focus on quantitative data can be a barrier to some, including traditionally operated small-scale and developing country fisheries. Where there isn’t enough data for a fishery to be assessed to all the Standard’s usual performance indicators, the RBF can be used in place.


How does the RBF work?

The 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 d 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, and can be compared with the default assessment method.

Who should use the Risk-Based Framework?

The Risk-Based Framework can be used in any fishery assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard. It’s better to use the default assessment method where possible, as the RBF’s precautionary methods will likely result in lower scores for data-rich fisheries.   

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.

Default assessment or Risk-Based Framework?

The Risk-Based Framework is used only where it is needed. The certification body will use the RBF for specific indicators 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.

Note that the RBF does not cover the assessment of management: Principle 3 of the Fisheries Standard. Data-limited fisheries' management will be assessed and scored as with any other fishery. 

Does limited data equate to poor management?

No. Many data limited fisheries may be very well managed using precautionary management measures that don’t rely heavily on quantitative data.

How was the Risk-Based Framework developed?

The 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, the method was trialled 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 MSC Fisheries Standard in July 2009.


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Because industry practices and scientific understanding evolve, we review our Standards every few years. You can get involved in the development.

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