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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to cause major disruption around the world, preventing many management agencies from carrying out their usual level of monitoring and enforcement of fisheries. This may include not being able to provide the expected number of independent observers on fishing vessels.

22 April 2020

We recognise the need to protect the health of those working hard to supply us with sustainable seafood at this difficult time and accept that this may result in temporary changes in management practices. 

However, we still expect MSC certificate holders to continue to meet the MSC Standards. All fisheries and supply chain partners should consider alternative measures to verify sustainability and traceability of seafood where existing practices are deemed impractical or temporarily unavailable. 

We are working with Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) and certificate holders to find and implement solutions to unprecedented challenges, including proceeding with audits remotely where feasible. We know that many stakeholders are concerned by the potential reduction of observers on MSC certified vessels, and we welcome alternative measures proposed by some management agencies.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is waiving observer coverage on a case-by-case basis, if justified by travel restrictions or a lack of qualified observers. In such cases the agency will monitor information, including fishing effort and catch data, and consider alternative fishery management measures if adverse environmental consequences are detected.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has suspended observer coverage, with fisheries in the area no longer able to provide this safely. Some fisheries, such as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) tuna fisheries (who usually provide 100% coverage), are supplementing data from fleets with additional checks provided by fish processing factories, where photographic evidence of species caught is being collected.

Further examples of alternative data collection methods are given in the MSC Fisheries Certification Requirements and Guidance

Fisheries with at-sea Chain of Custody certificates must continue to comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard, and demonstrate to their CAB that their systems differentiate between certified and uncertified products. PNA has already done this, receiving approval from their CAB for an alternative traceability assurance system earlier this month. 

Expedited audits can continue to be triggered by stakeholders concerned about changes in environmental impacts or new information that could materially impact a fishery’s certification status.

Rohan Currey, Chief Science and Standards Officer for the MSC said: 

"Working together we are confident our partners can continue to maintain credible certification while providing sustainable seafood to consumers through this global crisis.  

While our temporary derogation of some requirements enables fisheries to operate in this new reality, it has not changed our commitment to securing the health of our oceans through sustainable fish stocks and viable ecosystems."