Press release

MSC opens consultations on unit of assessment and shark finning

March 4, 2019

Stakeholders are encouraged to provide input on proposals to update the MSC Fisheries Certification Process

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has opened two further consultations as part of the review of its Fisheries Certification Process. The consultations focus on the compartmentalisation of certified and non-certified catch on board the same fishing vessel (also known as unit of assessment) and shark finning as an issue of eligibility for MSC certification. The consultations will remain open for 30 days, closing on Wednesday 3rd April 2019.

“We hugely value the input of stakeholders in informing developments to our program, ensuring that our requirements for sustainable fishing continue to reflect widely accepted global best practice,” said Rohan Currey, Fisheries Standard Director at the MSC. “These consultations aim to address concerns raised by stakeholders in relation to two important issues: compartmentalisation and shark finning. We encourage all stakeholders to share their views on the recommendations presented.”  


In 2017 the MSC initiated a review of its requirements for the Unit of Assessment (UoA) which defines the fishing activities assessed, and potentially certified, to the MSC Fisheries Standard. These requirements currently allow fishing vessels to catch both certified and uncertified catch of the same species during the same fishing trip provided catches are carefully separated, documented and verified.

Most market-based programs allow ‘compartmentalisation’ with the intent that overtime market demand for sustainable products will result in producers favouring certified production, making improvements to their overall operations. Organic farmers, for example, can grow organic and non-organic crops on the same farm as long as these crops are segregated and not mixed*.  However, stakeholders have raised concerns related to the overall sustainability of fishing activities which use both certified and uncertified fishing practices on the same stock during the same fishing trip.

Following two rounds of consultation, review by the MSC’s Stakeholder Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Board, further investigation into the impacts of proposed solutions and sign off from the MSC’s Board of Trustees, the MSC is consulting on the following changes to the definition of unit of assessment:

  • Removing the term 'fishing practice' from the definition of the unit of assessment. This means that all individual fishing practices using the same gear type (e.g. purse seine fishing on free schools and fish aggregating devices) would need to be assessed as part of the unit of assessment.

  • Adding a requirement to define the geographic area of the unit of assessment to increase clarity.

In practice, this would mean a tuna purse seine fishery with multiple fishing practices could no longer seek certification for the free school component of its catch alone.   

The MSC will also consult on the timelines, likely three or five years, for the adoption of the new definition of unit of assessment by already certified fisheries.

“This proposal follows extensive research and consultation,” said Currey. “It would require all fishing practices using the same gear type on the same stock to be MSC certified, removing the complexities associated with compartmentalisation by fishing practice at sea. Already certified fisheries would be given time to adapt to any new requirements.”

Further information on the proposals and how to take part in the consultation can be found at  

Shark finning

In December 2011, the MSC Board of Trustees resolved that shark finning (the removal of a shark’s fins and disposal of the remaining carcass at sea) is prohibited within MSC certified fisheries. New requirements were therefore introduced to the MSC Fisheries Standard to only allow fisheries to be certified if there is a high level of certainty that shark finning is not taking place. Certified fisheries are also required to have effective systems of monitoring, control and enforcement in place to address isolated incidents of shark finning.  

Since the introduction of these requirements, the MSC’s monitoring and evaluation, along with stakeholder feedback, has flagged inconsistencies in their application. The MSC therefore recognises the need to review whether the current requirements adequately reflect the Board’s intent.

This topic will be addressed through two separate reviews: the current consultation looks at shark finning as an eligibility (scope) issue for MSC certification; and the ongoing Fisheries Standard Review, run on a longer timeline, will consider how shark finning is addressed within the requirements of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

The current consultation gives stakeholders the opportunity to comment on the following proposal:

  • Introducing a new requirement that would deem individual legal entities successfully prosecuted for incidences of shark finning within the last 2 years 'out of scope' for MSC certification, and therefore not eligible to sell their catch as MSC certified.

  • The introduction of this requirement as part of an update to the Fisheries Certification Process, with a target release date of February 2020 and a 6-month implementation timeframe.

Further information on the proposals and how to take part in the consultation can be found at  

Other reviews and consultations

On 4th February, the MSC opened consultations into conditions, addressing disagreement and expedited audits. These ongoing consultations will also close on 3rd April 2019.

These consultations are separate from and in addition to the ongoing Fisheries Standard Review, which runs until 2021 and focuses on measures for sustainability set out within the MSC Fisheries Standard.

For media queries, please contact your nearest MSC representative

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