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MSC welcomes Sustainable Seas report

“…most rigorous certification in the seafood sector” 

The MSC has welcomed the publication of the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on the inquiry into Sustainable Seas.

Erin Priddle, UK Program Director says: “It is good to see the Environmental Audit Committee raising these important issues of ocean plastics and acidification. Far too often, our seas have been treated as ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We hope that this report will galvanize action in securing a healthy future for our oceans.”    

The inquiry included an examination of the MSC programme and its effectiveness. The report concluded that:
“The Marine Stewardship Council standard is the market leader and the most rigorous certification in the seafood sector.” 

The report also noted that: 

“…alternative labelling and certification systems… are not nearly as rigorous or stringent.”  

The committee recognized that the MSC programme has been effective at driving change towards sustainable fish stocks and improvements in fishing practices. The report acknowledges the role of British retailers, noting:  
“…fisheries companies using certification standards such as those provided by the MSC and retailers stocking products with fisheries ecolabels, are playing key roles in tackling the challenge of unsustainable fishing.”  

Erin Priddle continues: “The report reflects the complex, often polarized views around seafood certification. While some claim the bar is too low, others warn that it is ‘becoming too high even for world leading fisheries’. This illustrates the challenge of a global standard: if the bar is raised too high, it risks preventing fisheries – such as small scale and developing world fisheries – from ever reaching that bar.”  

MSC Fisheries Standard Review 

The report recommends that the ongoing Fisheries Standard Review should address specific criticisms of Unit of Assessment, the holistic assessment of fisheries, carbon emissions from fishing boats, shark finning, and barriers to entry for small scale fisheries. With the exception of carbon emissions, all of these subjects are being addressed in the Fisheries Standard Review currently underway, or in separate consultations taking place in 2019.  

Erin Priddle continues: “We acknowledge that there are some who have concerns about aspects of the MSC programme, or doubts about individual certifications. We take these concerns seriously and are grateful for all contributions which will help to strengthen the MSC Standard. We look forward to working with all involved in the coming weeks and months to listen to their contributions and, through this review and the potential updates to the Standard, reassure them of the programme’s rigour.”  

Importantly, the report also recommends that the concerns of Prof Roberts and others should be addressed through the established process of the five-yearly Fishery Standard Review. This is a transparent review process that invites stakeholder engagement. The process is reviewed by independent bodies, ISEAL and GSSI in order to ensure that it complies with best practices for standard setters. In the most recent GSSI review, the MSC met all the essential components of the GSSI benchmark, and a further 63 supplementary components relating to issues such as deep sea fishing, vulnerable marine ecosystems and data collection to demonstrate impact. 
Erin Priddle explains: “The MSC has been driving forward sustainable harvesting in global fisheries through a multi-stakeholder process for more than 20 years. The first version of the MSC Standard was built following an 18-month consultation with over 300 marine scientists, NGOs, specialists and governments. In the current review – our fourth to date – we have already welcomed input from WWF, Professor Roberts and others and will continue to invite them to engage with the MSC as we take forward this important and timely consultation.  

MSC is deeply aware of the ever-changing political and environmental landscape. We are committed to understanding these changes and the interaction they have with our Standard.  While there will always be those demanding short-term, or immediate change, the inquiry has recognized that the MSC has a well-established process to make changes to the Standard that includes the voices of all stakeholders.”  

Support for small scale fisheries 

The report highlighted the MSC’s work to increase the accessibility of the MSC programme to small-scale fisheries, but also shared concerns of some stakeholders about those fisheries’ ability to enter the MSC programme. In addition to the long-running Project UK Fisheries Improvements, supporting improvements in British small-scale fisheries, the MSC announced a £1 million fund and sustainability initiative in October 2018 to support small scale fisheries, including those in the Global South on their pathway to sustainability. The MSC has been engaged with fisheries in the Global South since its inception and has built up a solid knowledge of the constraints these fisheries face to achieve a sustainable level of performance. The fund will also help create a more sustainable seafood market through research to overcome data and information gaps in fisheries management.

Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of the Friends of Ocean Action, welcomed the move: “Our ocean is in trouble. We urgently need to scale workable solutions to deliver sustainable fisheries and resilient marine ecosystems. The attainment of SDG14’s targets is essential to the ocean’s future well-being. I welcome MSC’s latest initiative to engage with and help fisheries in the global south, and to invest in new scientific research that could benefit many fisheries around the world.”