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MSC Board Approves New Fisheries Standard

Will Little

Sea with small waves and mountains and clouds on horizonn

The Marine Stewardship Council’s new Fisheries Standard has received unanimous approval from its Board of Trustees, which hailed it as a ‘major achievement’.

The decision follows the most comprehensive review of the MSC Fisheries Standard ever undertaken in the 25-year history of the organisation.

The four-year review involved significant scientific research and consultation with over 1,000 stakeholders - including fisheries, scientists, assessors, environmental NGOs and industry representatives.

It addressed some of the most difficult issues facing the ocean, including protecting marine biodiversity and incentivising stronger ocean governance. It also aimed to improve accessibility to the MSC’s sustainability programme for small-scale and emerging market fisheries.  These improvements will ensure that MSC-certified fisheries continue to be recognised as world leaders in sustainability, helping to drive progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the target to end overfishing.

The MSC Fisheries Standard, which is based on United Nations FAO guidelines for ecolabelling, is reviewed at least every five years in line with the ISEAL Standard Setting Code of Best Practice. The review aims to reflect the evolution and uptake of best practice in fisheries management. It also introduces changes to improve the implementation of our Standard and address stakeholder concerns.

The improvements of the new Fisheries Standard include:

  • A new approach 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 increase accessibility. 
  • New measures for multi-jurisdictional fisheries, managed by RFMOs, 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.

Dr Werner Kiene, Chairman of the MSC’s Board of Trustees, said: “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 and where the bar is set, 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 the best performing fisheries around the world to implement over appropriate transition timelines.”

Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC said: “The MSC’s new Fisheries Standard will deliver real benefits and contribute to accelerating the delivery of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals through the continued engagement and support of our partners. This is good news for the ocean, fishers and consumers.”

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.  As the new Standard is rolled out and the implementation begins, MSC experts will be making available a full programme of training and guidance to support fisheries and assessors apply the new requirements.