We regularly carry out a formal review of the MSC Fisheries Standard to make sure our assessment and certification system remains the leading measure of fisheries sustainability.
We review our Standard to reflect the evolution and uptake of best practice in fisheries management. We also make changes to improve the implementation of our Standard and address stakeholder concerns.
Updated MSC Fisheries Standard approved
We recently completed the most comprehensive review of the MSC Fisheries Standard ever undertaken in the 25-year history of the MSC.
The new version of the Standard (version 3.0) includes significant improvements, including better protections for marine life, as well as stronger fisheries management and compliance requirements.
What were the objectives of this review?
- To include better scientific understanding and fishery management practices in the Standard.
- To make the Standard clearer for those using it in fishery assessments.
- To make the Standard less complex and remove barriers to fisheries joining and staying in the program.
- To make the Standard more accessible to fisheries in the Global South and make it more applicable to high priority species and ecosystems.
- To improve data collection and evidence-based decision-making.
Full details are given in the Fisheries Standard Review Terms of Reference.
What areas of the Fisheries Standard were revised?Changes to the Fisheries Standard were delivered through 16 distinct projects. Expand the drop-down section below to read more about each project.
Two of the projects listed below have not yet delivered outcomes and are on extended timelines which have been agreed by our governance bodies.
Follow the links below to find out about each of the projects in the Fisheries Standard Review, the Fisheries Certification Process Review and our revisions to the scope criteria for the MSC program.
- Alternative management approaches for mixed and multispecies fisheries (to be completed on a longer timeframe)
- Expanding our guidance for data-limited fisheries under Principle 1 (to be completed on a longer timeframe)
- The Fisheries Certification Process Review (including Harmonisation)
The Fisheries Certification Process was also reviewed to improve understanding and implementation of existing requirements and processes. This will ensure that fishery assessments are consistent and credible.
Implementing the new version of our Standard
Fisheries seeking certification for the first time will need to adhere to the new version of our Standard from 01 May 2023.
Certified fisheries will have at least three years before they are required to begin the transition to Version 3.0 . This is in compliance with the UN FAO Best Practice Guidelines for Ecolabelling.
We have introduced a new policy that requires all certificate holders to have completed reassessment to the MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0 within six years of it being published (01 November 2028).
The development of the MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0 included research and analysis, stakeholder consultation, impact testing and input from our governance bodies.
We discuss the development process in a paper published in the journal Marine Policy in October 2023.
Expand the sections below to find out more about how we developed the new version of our Standard and associated program documents and guidance.
In the initial stages of the review we worked with stakeholders to identify the key areas of the Standard that needed to be reviewed. This included carrying out a comprehensive analysis of our requirements, scoring and assessment reports to identify inconsistencies and areas that require clarifying. We also held workshops with Conformity Assessment Bodies and independent experts and carried out benchmarking exercises to understand whether our existing requirements reflect global best practice.
We commissioned research from independent consultants throughout the review to provide additional information, expert views and to offer solutions for further consideration by the MSC executive. Reports from this research have been published on the relevant project pages.
Our consultation process follows both the ISEAL Standard Setting Code of Good Practice and the FAO Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries.
We held public consultations throughout 2020 and 2021 for projects with the greatest complexity and potential to change the intent of the Standard or lead to high-impact changes to requirements. Between May 2020 and July 2021, 190 stakeholders took part in nine online public consultation workshops, and we received over 450 responses to 11 surveys, throughout 2020 and 2021.
A final public review of the proposed Standard and all associated documents was carried out between 01 February and 04 April 2022. We received over 160 responses to our survey and 29 letters from stakeholders.
For the more technical aspects of the review, we also held targeted consultations with subject-matter experts. Since the start of the review, we have held 12 workshops and two surveys with over 150 technical specialists.
All stakeholder feedback was considered equally and objectively and fed into our policy development process alongside the other inputs described.
We carried out extensive impact assessments and pilot tests to understand the positive and negative consequences of proposed policies, and judge what revisions will be the most effective in solving the identified issues.
These impact assessments confirmed whether our new policies simplify the Standard and effectively meet the MSC’s intent, and if they are acceptable to stakeholders and can be audited by assessors. We considered the feasibility of changes for fisheries, and whether any changes impact the accessibility of our program, or retention of certified fisheries in the MSC program.
We also worked with Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) to carry out mock assessments using our proposed revised requirements. This allows our revised Standard to be applied to ‘on the water’ scenarios to ensure that they are fit for purpose. In addition to providing feedback on individual changes, pilot testing allows us to examine the cumulative impact of changes to the Standard as a whole and identify where interactions between changes occur.
Outcomes have clarified the effect the new standard would have on fisheries’ scores, conditions and pass rates; identified any impact on accessibility and retention; and indicated whether there is a change in the sustainability bar, intended or otherwise.
Each performance indicator (PI) and scoring issue (SI) can contribute differently to the overall Principle level score during a fishery assessment. PIs have different weightings and differing numbers of SIs, so their contribution to the overall score can vary.
As part of the policy development process, we have analysed certified fisheries to understand how the proposed changes to the Standard will impact scoring at both PI and Principle level. This helps us understand if and where the bar for performance has changed and whether the changes align with the intended outcomes of the revisions.
We also carried out auditability assessments with Assurance Services International, an external oversight body for CABs, and assessors to understand whether the proposed revisions to the Standard deliver the MSC’s intent and where further clarity is required.
The MSC governance bodies have played an active role throughout the Fisheries Standard Review. They provide independent quality control and are expertly positioned to evaluate proposals and impact assessments, making sure the wider implications have been considered.
Members of the Stakeholder Advisory Council, Technical Advisory Board and the MSC Executive also formed working groups to support and drive progress in the different aspects of the review.
QuestionsFor further details about our current Fisheries Standard Review, to suggest new issues for future reviews, request copies of reports from past public consultations or any other suggestions, please email [email protected].
Find out more about our policy development process.
Find out more
The MSC is working towards making the MSC program more accessible for mixed fisheries.
The MSC ensures that certified fisheries allow the recovery of any Endangered, Threatened and Protected species.
The MSC seeks to reward best practice in fisheries management and to support fisheries that are working to improve their management systems.
The MSC Fisheries Standard rewards fisheries that protect ecosystems and habitats in the places where they fish.
The MSC is committed to supporting well-managed fisheries that do not have access to scientific data.