The Fisheries Certification Process Review

The Fisheries Certification Process (FCP) is the instruction manual for Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs). It defines the processes CABs must follow when assessing a fishery against the MSC Fisheries Standard.

We review our fisheries assessment process every few years to ensure it remains robust, transparent and credible, and to address stakeholder concerns. The most recent version of the FCP (v2.2) has been in effect since September 2020. 

We are currently reviewing the MSC Fisheries Standard, and the FCP will be revised alongside it.

Improving the Fisheries Certification Process

Through the Fisheries Certification Process Review we aim to improve understanding and implementation of existing requirements and processes. This will ensure fishery assessments are consistent and credible.

How the Fisheries Certification Process could change

The revised process will incorporate changes to the Standard resulting from the current Fisheries Standard Review. In addition, we have proposed improvements to the harmonisation process and clarifications to the existing certification processes. detailed below. 

In January 2022, the MSC Board of Trustees approved the proposed Standard and Fisheries Certification Process to enter a final period of public review. The public review was open between 01 February and 04 April 2022. 

Harmonisation activities for overlapping fisheries

Overlapping fisheries - those that target the same stocks, operate within the same management frameworks and impact the same habitats and species - should receive consistent scores and conditions of certification. When overlapping fisheries are assessed, they must go through a harmonisation process to make sure scores and conditions have been consistently applied by assessors.

Currently there is ambiguity around how assessors should coordinate the harmonisation process. This has led to uncertainty, recurring harmonisation activities and delays to assessments and surveillance audits.

Proposed revisions to the harmonisation process

We have clarified requirements on the timing, duration and coordination of harmonisation, so that harmonisation should be an annual event. Harmonisation should only be triggered more frequently if new information that would prompt an expedited audit becomes available.

The intent of harmonisation remains the same, as does the scope of what should be harmonised. 

We have also improved requirements to ensure assessors are clear on the process and have begun the development of a database to help assessors identify overlapping scoring elements across fishery assessments.

Impact of proposed revisions

As more fisheries join the MSC program, we expect the number of fisheries with overlapping Units of Assessment to increase. These changes will ensure future harmonisation activities are managed more efficiently, avoiding continuous harmonisation cycles.

Impact assessment report

We carry out impact assessments to understand the positive and negative consequences of our proposed policies, enabling us to judge which policies will be the most effective in solving the identified issues. We also consider whether the proposals are feasible and can be effectively implemented by assessors.

Read our impact assessment reports below.

Fisheries Certification Process Review - Impact Assessment Report - Harmonisation - (Nov 21)
Description: Fisheries Certification Process Review - Impact Assessment Report - Harmonisation - (Nov 21)

Language: English
Date of issue: 01 February 2022
MSC Fisheries Certification Process Review: Impact Assessment Report - Harmonisation (April 2021)
Description: Summary of impact assessment for policy options on the 'Harmonisation' project, part of the Fisheries Certification Process review (April 2021)

Language: English
Date of issue: 22 April 2021

Improving traceability reporting

Assessments against the MSC Chain of Custody Standard ensure that only products that come from an MSC certified fishery are eligible to be sold into the supply chain as MSC certified.  

Supply chain businesses must show that certified and non-certified products are segregated and be able to trace all MSC seafood back to other certified suppliers. In the same way, fisheries must have systems to track product movement, segregation and identification, to show how they confirm that fish being sold is from certified catches.

Proposed revisions

The fishery assessor now needs to include in their report how product is moved and tracked within the fishery, and how a buyer can confirm it is certified as it moves from the fishery into the supply chain. The traceability section of the fishery report will be completed or reviewed by a Chain of Custody auditor.

This will improve the consistency of fishery traceability assessments and make product eligibility clearer for MSC certified supply chain businesses buying from MSC certified fisheries.

Proposed revisions to the other certification processes

We have updated wording to clarify how and when CABs should engage stakeholders in fishery assessments and surveillance audits. This includes additional guidance to clarify that any information used to score fisheries should be available to stakeholders so they can properly review the logic used by assessment teams.

We have also clarified and strengthened existing processes for CABs to follow when merging certified fisheries, withdrawing Units of Assessment or extending the scope of certificates to include additional fishers.

These changes will ensure that the processes set out in the FCP are applied consistently across different fishery assessments. They should improve the experience for fishery clients and stakeholders engaged in assessments, with clearer processes resulting in better informed, comprehensive assessments and certificate decisions.

Download the revised MSC Fisheries Certification Process to view all proposed changes. 

Please note that sections in the Standard marked in square brackets will be subject to further refinement through ongoing research and pilot testing with Conformity Assessment Bodies.

Next steps

All feedback from the public review will be analysed alongside findings from further impact assessments and pilot tests. Changes will be incorporated into our proposals where appropriate. This will help us ensure the new Standard and Fisheries Certification Process is clear and delivers the intent of our program. 

Our Stakeholder Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Board will review the final proposals in May 2022. 

Publishing the new Standard

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

If a decision is made to approve the Standard, the Board will confirm when the new Standard and FCP will be published.

Fisheries seeking certification for the first time will need to adhere to any new Standard six months after it is published.

Assessors will be required to use the new version of the FCP alongside the new Standard.

MSC certified fisheries will have at least three years before they need to transition to the new Standard.

Sign up to our Fisheries Standard Review mailing list to receive updates about the review.

Developing our policies

To develop the proposed revised Fisheries Certification Process we consulted with key groups such as conformity assessment bodies and Assurance Services International. We also sought advice and input from our governance bodies throughout the process.

The different inputs which contributed to the development of the revised FCP are detailed below.

Fisheries Certification Process review workshop

In May 2021 we held a workshops with CABs and assessors to explore the best approach to coordinate harmonisation activities and how to make the process more efficient. We also discussed general clarifications required to improve the assessment process.

We have published a summary report from the workshop, containing details of the project and feedback received.

MSC Fisheries Certification Process Review - Assessor Workshop summary report - May 2021
Description: Summary report from the assessor workshops held in May 2021 as part of the Fisheries Certification Process Review.

Language: English
Date of issue: 19 August 2021

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