Clarifying the assessment of key low trophic level stocks

Depleting the population of species low in the food chain, such as sardines and anchovies, can have significant knock-on effects for other species within the ecosystem.

The MSC Fisheries Standard aims to limit the impact on ecosystems caused by the commercial harvesting of such species, known as low trophic level (LTL) species. 


Improving our standard

We want to ensure that our requirements for key low trophic species (LTL) species are clear and being applied as intended. We are reviewing current requirements, which were introduced in 2011, and identifying areas that require clarification. 

To ensure a more consistent approach to designating such stocks, we are also developing a tool for Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) to identify key LTL species more easily.



How could the standard change?

This review could lead to a change in the requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard. This could include clarification of reference points that can be used in the assessment of fisheries, such as the use of spawning stock level and total biomass. We also aim to clarify language to include missing terms and, in the long term, introduce a tool to aid the identification of key LTL species by CABs.


Progress so far

We have carried out a review of all issues relating to key LTL fisheries logged by staff and stakeholders. We have also reviewed how key and non-key LTL fisheries are assessed in order to understand how the current requirements are being applied. We now know how many fisheries are designated as key or non-key LTL, how this was determined and how the scoring was conducted in each case.

We have held two global stakeholder workshops to discuss the current requirements, gathering feedback on key areas. The suitability of using original biomass indexes to manage multi-species and key LTL species and the need for alternative solutions were discussed. We have also appointed a consultant to determine whether the criteria used to identify key LTL species and the methods used to assess the impact of harvesting these species remain robust. 

Next steps

We are currently drafting new language and guidance for a revised Standard.

We will carry out pilot assessments and seek guidance from our Technical Advisory Board. This will make sure any changes to our Standard are feasible and achieve the expected outcomes.

By the end of 2021, we will have a draft of the revised Standard, which will be reviewed by our governance bodies.

In early 2022, stakeholders will have an opportunity to review all proposed changes before any final decision to revise the Standard is made.

The new Standard will be released later in 2022 following approval from our Board.

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