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The MSC's proposed updated Fisheries Standard enters a 60-day review period. The draft includes changes related to shark finning and ghost gear.

Sea with small waves and mountains and clouds on horizonn

The Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) proposed updates to its Fisheries Standard are published today.

These include a strengthening of requirements on endangered, threatened and protected species (ETP), shark finning, ghost gear and also streamlining requirements to make assessments less complex, where possible.  

The draft is part of a periodic review process, which ensures that the MSC’s Fisheries Standard is updated to reflect best practice in fisheries management. 446 fisheries, representing 17% global wild marine harvest, are certified to the Standard. 

Starting in 2018, the review has involved the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the organisation, involving the participation of more than 1,000 stakeholders – including fisheries experts, assessors, NGOs and industry representatives. It included 16 in-depth projects to review the Standard, which used extensive research, stakeholder consultation and independent analysis of fisheries management.

The significant improvements resulting from the review will ensure that MSC certified fisheries continue to be recognised as world leaders in sustainability. 

Dr Rohan Currey, Chief Science & Standards Officer at the Marine Stewardship Council says: “The past 30 years have seen significant strides made in sustainable fishing. Yet overfishing and the deterioration of our oceans continues.”  

However, he adds, “By distilling science, knowledge and best practice into a tangible set of requirements for fisheries, this Standard provides one of the most powerful tools we have to ensure a sustainable future for our fisheries and oceans.”

The hope is that fisheries certified to the MSC Standard will help drive the collective effort to achieve the ambition set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to conserve and sustainably use marine resources. 

Policy Proposals

The proposals include a new method for classifying species as ETP that combines knowledge from both marine conservation and fisheries management to identify species and stocks in need of additional protection. Fisheries will be expected to eliminate or minimise their impacts on such species to enable their populations to recover. 

While Shark finning is already banned  in MSC certified fisheries, the proposed new requirements to the MSC Fisheries Standard will require all fisheries that retain sharks to have a Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) policy, without exception. This proposal follows consultations and independent research which found that a FNA policy is the most viable available to ensure shark-finning does not take place.

The updated Fisheries Standard will also include strengthened requirements on ghost gear, which according to the UN food agency, FAO, needs to be tackled urgently “for the sake of both marine life and the people whose lives depend on it”.

The MSC’s proposed Fisheries Standard will strengthen requirements for fishing gear lost or discarded at sea. To reduce the risk of unintentional capture or entanglement of marine life in ghost gear, fisheries will need to implement management measures to prevent gear loss, and to minimise its impacts when gear is lost or discarded.   

The complexity of the Standard has also been reduced with the objective of making assessments more efficient. While fisheries must still attain the same level of performance, the entire Standard was reviewed to simplify language, remove ambiguity and reduce the number of indicators that fisheries are assessed against. As a result, the number of scoring issues has been reduced overall, while the same level of performance is still required.   

The proposals mentioned above and others, such as those relating to harvest strategies and ecosystems and habitats, are available to view online.  View all projects in the review >

What Happens Next?

Following approval of the draft Standard by the MSC’s Board of Trustees, the process is now entering its final stage with a 60-day public review until Monday, 4 April.

Stakeholders can take part in an online survey and comment on whether the proposed revisions to the Standard are effective and can be feasibly applied and audited.

The full draft MSC Fisheries Standard is also available online . Anyone interested in finding out more about the changes is also invited to attend a public webinar on 15 February to speak with members of the MSC’s Fisheries Standard Team.  

The MSC Board of Trustees will make the final decision to approve the new Standard in June 2022. 

Dr Currey says: “Today’s announcement is the culmination of hundreds of contributions from scientists, fisheries experts, conservationists, businesses, governments and many others. We are hugely grateful to all those who have provided input and insight into the review so far. We look forward to receiving feedback.”

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.

Consultation on Review of the Fisheries Standard