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Friday 24 June 2022

After a comprehensive four-year review, involving over 1,000 stakeholders and significant scientific research, the Board of Trustees of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has unanimously approved the new version of its Fisheries Standard, hailing it as a ‘major achievement’. 

539 fisheries are currently certified to the Standard, representing 16% of wild marine catch, making it the largest sustainable fishing programme in the world.  The influence of the MSC Fisheries Standard extends beyond this, as the requirements are used as a framework by numerous governments, NGOS and fisheries around the world that seek to improve ocean sustainability.

The review involved the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the organisation– including fisheries, scientists, assessors, environmental NGOs and supply chain organisations - from around the globe.  It addressed some of the most difficult issues facing the ocean, including protecting marine biodiversity, incentivising stronger ocean governance, whilst providing tools to expand accessibility of the MSC’s market-based sustainability programme to small-scale and emerging economy fisheries. To this end, the MSC commissioned over 33 expert reports and other analysis, to support the 16 in-depth projects which made up the review.  

The significant improvements will ensure that MSC-certified fisheries continue to be recognised as world leaders in sustainability, helping to secure the livelihoods of future generations as well driving progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the target of ending overfishing. 

The improvements include: 

  • New requirements to protect endangered, threatened or protected species. Fisheries will be expected to minimise their impacts on such species to help their population recover. 
  • A Fins Naturally Attached policy will be mandatory in all fisheries that retain sharks. These measures will strengthen the existing ban on shark-finning in MSC-certified fisheries. 
  • Some existing requirements have been stream-lined with the objective of making assessments more efficient and improvements in methods to aid data-limited fisheries, will improve accessibility.
  • New measures for multi-jurisdictional fisheries, managed by RFMOs, aim to secure credible, robust harvest strategies. 
  • New evidence requirements will ensure that fisheries - especially those operating on the high seas with unwanted catch that includes, for example, marine birds – will have to produce stronger proof of how they are managing their impacts. 

Due to the high level of interest in the new evidence requirements, the Board agreed that a Working Group – composed of members of MSC’s governance bodies, the Stakeholder Advisory Council and the Technical Advisory Board - will oversee the implementation of the new framework. The implementation will involve the development of detailed and high-quality guidance. It also decided that within two years, the MSC would review the effectiveness of the evidence requirements. 

On fisheries which intentionally harass marine mammals as part of their fishing operations, the Board decided to adopt proposals from MSC’s Technical Advisory Board to address this issue within the Standard. Fisheries engaged in such practices will be required to provide a high level of proof that marine mammal populations are healthy.  This approach accords with MSC’s overall ethos to incentivize improvements in sustainability and drive change based on science and evidence.

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dr Werner Kiene, said: “We would like to thank all of those who have contributed to this review – in particular, the MSC’s scientists who led this extensive, complex review with great dedication and expertise, as well members of our governance bodies from all parts of the world, who have generously given their time and knowledge to shape this new Standard. We recognise the value of this exceptional work.  The Board is keenly aware of the importance of the MSC Fisheries Standard, and its role in driving change in our ocean. While there are sometimes competing views of what should be in the Standard, we strongly believe that this new version strikes the right balance between setting a high ambition for sustainability with the need to make sure that the requirements are practical for fisheries around the world to implement. We believe this outcome will carry us forward, ensuring the progress needed for the future of our ocean.  This is a goal that we can all unite around, and we look forward to working with our stakeholders, sharing the more details about this new version of the Standard and working together to implement it.“ 

The new version of the Standard will be published in October 2022. Fisheries entering assessment for the first time will apply the new Standard from May 2023.  Certified fisheries have a maximum of six years – a reduction of the previous transition time - to adjust their practices to meet the new Standard.

Changes to the Fisheries Standard were delivered through 16 distinct projects which can be viewed here.