Clarifying best practice for reducing impacts on endangered species (ETP)

Ensuring MSC certified fisheries do not prevent the recovery of endangered, threatened and protected species is vital to achieving our mission of safeguarding ocean health.

Improving our standard

Most of the MSC Fisheries Standard requirements relating to endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species were last significantly updated in 2008. Since then, stakeholders have expressed concern that a lack of clear requirement definitions and often limited information on ETP interactions has led to ambiguity in the interpretation of scoring fishery impacts on these species.

Current methods of categorising what constitutes an ETP species has also been raised as a barrier to consistent assessment of fisheries. Stakeholders have noted inconsistencies caused by the use of varying lists of ETP species in the MSC Fisheries Standard. These lists often vary from country to country, having different criteria and quality of data for their ratings.

We want to ensure sensitive populations are consistently assigned as endangered, threatened or protected so certified fisheries can allow these species to recover and thrive.

We also want to incentivise consistent data collection on interactions and mitigation methods used by fisheries. This will help to accurately monitor impacts on ETP species.


How could the Standard change?

We will not change the intent of our requirements, which direct fisheries to minimise their impact on ETP species and allow recovery. However, we want to clarify these requirements to ensure assessments are more accurate and reflect the evolution of best practice in fisheries management.


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Introducing the proposed revisions: Endangered, threatened and protected species


Proposed revisions to the Standard

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

Revisions related to endangered, threatened and protected species are:

New requirements for the designation of ETP species

We have revised our requirements for designating species as ETP to ensure assessors are taking a consistent and precautionary approach, in alignment with the UN FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Revisions will ensure species are being objectively and accurately classified as ETP, and that more species - including all out-of-scope species - are now subject to the proposed ETP requirements, and thus afforded greater protections under our Standard. 

Our proposed revisions include expanding the application of international species lists of CITES, CMS and IUCN to include more species. For example, CITES Appendix 2 species and both CMS Appendix 1 and 2 species have now been added to species lists requiring consideration.

We have also introduced a new two-step process for determining if in-scope species (finfish and invertebrates) should be classified and assessed as ETP: 

  • Step 1: Establish whether the species features on specific international and national lists of ETP species. 
  • Step 2: Apply a set of scientific criteria – stock status, management status or species life history - to reclassify species (with the exception of sharks) as either target catch under Principle 1, or In-Scope species under Principle 2. 

This process allows well-managed populations or populations which are inherently resilient to exploitation to be eligible for MSC certification and enables assessors to respond to real-time data on a species and fisheries rather than being fully reliant on listings which may not be up to date. 

More explicit consideration of fishery impacts on populations and improved management 

We have made it more explicit how assessors should consider whether a fishery is hindering the recovery of an ETP or out-of-scope population during an assessment. We want to ensure assessments are more objective and quantifiable, and so have introduced new definitions and concepts specifying how the impact of a fishery on ETP or out-of-scope population recovery should be measured.

Assessors must now consider whether a fishery is impacting a species' ability to recover to a minimum of '50% of unimpacted levels within three generations or 100 years, whichever is shorter'. This is a type of reference point we refer to as Favourable Conservation Status.

The differing life histories of each species will impact a population’s recovery time, and so we will provide assessors with guidance on how to evaluate different species groups. New management requirements will mean fisheries must also explicitly show how they are effectively eliminating or minimising mortality of ETP or out-of-scope species. 

We have clarified the language in our requirements on the assessment of indirect impacts and unobserved mortality and provided assessors with additional guidance to ensure our intent is clear. Assessors will now be required to document information related to their assessment of unobserved mortality. 

International compliance

We have also introduced new requirements under Principle 3 to ensure assessors are evaluating the fishery's compliance with national and international regulations for protecting ETP species. These changes will deliver more objective and consistent assessments. 

Download the revised Standard and guidance below.

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.

You can request a version of the requirements specific to this topic including tracked changes by emailing

Impact of proposed revisions

These revisions may increase the complexity of some assessments, and require fisheries to achieve a higher ecological performance. However, they are necessary to ensure our Standard reflects global best practice and that fisheries are actively eliminating their impacts on ETP or out-of-scope species. 

The assessment of a fishery’s impacts will be more precautionary, with fisheries required to provide quantifiable evidence that demonstrates they have effective management measures in place for reducing their impacts. This will make assessments more objective and accurate, thereby increasing confidence that only fisheries that can prove they are not impacting or harming the recovery of ETP populations achieve MSC certification. 

Streamlining and clarifying our Standard requirements and ETP designation process will also ensure assessors are applying the Standard correctly, making assessments more efficient and consistent.

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 consider factors such as 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 look at whether proposed changes can be effectively audited by assessors.

MSC Fisheries Standard Review - Impact Assessment Report - Endangered, threatened and protected species (Nov 2021)
Description: MSC Fisheries Standard Review - Impact Assessment Report - Endangered, threatened and protected species (Nov 2021)

Language: English
Date of issue: 01 February 2022

Links with other projects in the Review

To ensure ETP species are scored more consistently, we need to make sure fishery assessments are based on a robust and consistent standard of information.

This will be achieved through a separate project in the review - Ensuring effective fisheries management systems are in place' where we are proposing the introduction of an evidence requirements framework. This would provide assessors with a consistent and systematic approach to judging the quality of information provided by a fishery. 

Find out more about the proposed Evidence Requirements Framework >

We have updated our Risk-Based Framework, which is used to support the assessment of fisheries with limited data. This will ensure it delivers precautionary and robust outcomes when used to assess the impacts of a fishery on out-of-scope species. 

Find out more about our proposed revisions to the Risk-Based Framework > 

We have also proposed new scope criteria, that must be applied by assessors before considering a fishery for certification. This includes criteria to prohibit fisheries that intentionally kill or intentionally harass marine mammals. 

Find out more about the proposed changes to the scope of the MSC program >

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 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 in June 2022. 

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

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

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

The development of the proposed Standard follows two rounds of public consultation on key aspects of the review, independent research, data analysis and impact assessments to determine whether proposals are feasible and deliver our stated intentions. We have also sought advice and input from our governance bodies throughout the process.

Find out more about how we develop our standards >

See the sections below to find out more about the different inputs which contributed to the development of our proposed policies for this project.  

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