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.

New MSC Fisheries Standard approved

In June 2022, the MSC Board of Trustees approved the new  MSC Fisheries Standard (version 3.0). 

This decision followed the most comprehensive review of the MSC Fisheries Standard ever undertaken in the 25-year history of the MSC. 

Key outcomes

The new MSC Fisheries Standard represents a significant strengthening of our requirements on ETP species since we last revised them substantively in 2008.

  • A new classification system will ensure that species are consistently and objectively classified as ETP. 

  • More species, including all marine mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles (out-of-scope species), will be automatically subject to the new requirements and afforded greater protections under our Standard.

  • Impacts of fisheries on ETP populations will be assessed more explicitly, and fisheries required to demonstrate how they are reducing these impacts through the application of best practice management measures. 
  • The requirements include clearer and greater protection for all species of shark.

Further details on our new requirements on endangered, threatened and protected species, and how these requirements were developed can be found below. 

Read our recent Board statement to find out more. 

Implementing the new standard

We intend to publish the new MSC Fisheries Standard (version 3.0) in October 2022. 

Fisheries seeking certification for the first time will need to adhere to the new Standard from May 2023.   

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 (October 2028). 

Read more about our new transition timelines for certified fisheries.  

What are the new requirements?

New requirements for designation of endangered, threatened and protected 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.

To ensure sharks are better protected, we have expanded the definition of ‘shark’ to include all shark species (from the class Chondrichthyes) for the purposes of classifying a species as endangered, threatened, or protected. The definition of a shark (Rhinopristiformes and Selachimorpha) remains unchanged in relation to our shark finning requirements.

The new requirements 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, which are those that can be targeted by MSC certified fisheries (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 as either target catch under Principle 1, or to be assessed against the In-Scope species component under Principle 2. Our In-scope species component typically assesses other species caught that are eligible for certification (finfish and invertebrates) but are not the focus of certification.  

Following the publication of the draft Standard in early 2022, revisions have been made that would allow some  sharks (those listed on CITES Appendix 2 and CMS Appendix 2) to be  assessed under Principle 1 or subject to our requirements for in-scope species rather than ETP/Out-of-Scope. However, this can only occur only if the specific stock meets the scientific criteria in Step 2, demonstrating that the specific stock has a healthy population size and is well-managed. 

Allowing species to be reclassified if they meet these criteria will mean well-managed populations or populations which are inherently resilient to exploitation can be eligible for MSC certification and enables assessors to respond to real-time data on a species and fishery 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 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. 

Version 3.0 of the MSC Fisheries Standard, and all associated program documents, will be published in October 2022. 

Impact of 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 carried 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 considered 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 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 will introduce an evidence requirements framework. This will 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 > 

Next steps

We intend to publish the new MSC Fisheries Standard (version 3.0) in October 2022. 

Implementation timeframes

Fisheries seeking certification for the first time will need to adhere to the new Standard from May 2023. 

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 (October 2028). 

Certified fisheries will still have at least three years before they are required to begin the transition to the new Standard. This is in compliance with the UN FAO Best Practice Guidelines for Ecolabelling.     

Please note, the publication date of version 3.0 (and therefore the effective date, and deadline for recertification) may be subject to change.

Sign up to our mailing list to receive updates about the roll out of the new Standard.  

Developing our policies

The development of the proposed Standard follows three rounds of public consultation on key aspects of the review, including a 60-day public review in early 2022. We also commissioned independent research and carried out  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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