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Driving sustainability through policy development and the MSC Fisheries Standard

May 18, 2021

As we enter the final stages of our current Fisheries Standard Review, MSC Chief Science and Standards Officer, Dr Rohan Currey explains our approach to policy development and how we work with our stakeholders to achieve balanced and effective outcomes. 


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Policy is at the heart of our work at the MSC: we set standards to assess if fisheries are well-managed and sustainable and determine how certified seafood products are handled throughout the supply chain. We are often asked by stakeholders how our policies are developed and how they can have their say in the process. 

How does the MSC approach policy development?

First and foremost we take a careful and considered approach, making sure we don’t lose sight of our aim to protect oceans and safeguard seafood supplies for the future.

Currently, over 17% of wild-capture fisheries are engaged in our Program, demonstrating our policies are influential at a global scale. While we can drive improvements in sustainability across the seafood industry, it comes with risk. Every decision we make has a consequence, so we have to develop our policies with caution. It’s vital we consider the long and short-term effects on ocean ecosystems and wider impacts for communities worldwide who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

Ultimately, we exist to provide an independent voice that sets the bar for sustainable fishing and a traceable supply chain.

Our founders – WWF and Unilever – established the MSC to provide a market-based solution for those looking to source and buy sustainable seafood products.

We have since gained global recognition throughout the seafood industry and have the support of our governance bodies, diverse stakeholder groups and the market to continue making policies that drive progress in sustainable fishing.

How does MSC policy development work?

Our policies are evidence-based and evolve over time. Fisheries research is constantly making progress – and that’s great – but we need to avoid rushing to incorporate new science into our Standards if it hasn’t been widely accepted and integrated into industry best practice.

To develop our policies, we use a rigorous, multi-step process, working with many different stakeholder groups and gathering evidence from a wide range of sources. This includes carrying out internal data analysis, consulting our stakeholders and commissioning independent scientists to carry out research. We use data in the public domain, such as statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and publish our own reports, such as consultation summary reports.

How evidence informs our policies

Throughout the process the MSC team evaluates all evidence objectively and uses the data to develop policy proposals. We then carry out impact assessments to identify the most effective proposal to be taken forward and refined.

Impact assessments are arguably one of the most important steps in the process. They help us weigh the positive and negative outcomes of a policy and to judge the most effective in solving the issues identified. Through the assessments we also consider aspects such as whether a policy can be effectively applied by a fishery and audited by independent assessors.

Our governance bodies provide advice throughout the process and make the final decision on which policies will be adopted. They act as an independent quality control and are expertly positioned to evaluate our proposals and impact assessments, making sure the wider implications have been considered.

How can stakeholders contribute?

We are fortunate to work with stakeholders who represent a broad range of sectors – from research scientists and conservation groups to industry partners. They provide a wealth of expertise and perspectives, helping us identify issues and shape our policies throughout the process.

Stakeholders can share their opinions and provide feedback on proposals through public consultations, such as workshops and surveys. We consider all stakeholder input equally and objectively and it feeds into the process alongside independent research, our own data analysis and impact assessments.

One of our priorities is making sure our policies are acceptable to stakeholders, although the variety of interests means it can be challenging to meet the demands of all groups. We recognise it can be frustrating for stakeholders if their input is not represented in the final outcome, but we work hard to ensure our policies will lead to the most effective outcomes and stakeholder input is vital to achieve that.

In the face of the global pandemic, we moved all our consultations online. While we were concerned this could limit our ability to engage with stakeholders, it has in fact allowed us to work with more stakeholders than ever before and we hope to continue to hear from such a diverse range of voices.

Can stakeholders still participate in the Fisheries Standard Review?

Yes, our public consultations are currently open. Stakeholders can take part in surveys to help us refine the proposed revisions to our Standard. By the end of 2021 we will have drafted a revised Standard, which stakeholders can review in early 2022. Stakeholders are also invited to attend our webinar on Tuesday 8 June 2021, to find out more about the progress made in the review so far, the revisions we are proposing and take part in a question and answer session.

Consultation on Review of the Fisheries Standard

Consultation on Review of the Fisheries Standard

Stakeholders are at the heart of our Fisheries Standard Review, helping identify issues, develop solutions and test the possible impacts of any proposed changes.

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