Clarifying the assessment of squid, crab and octopus fisheries

Applying the MSC Fisheries Standard’s requirements for scoring species groups such as squid, crab and octopus can be complicated.

This is because of the unique life-histories of these species, such as their short-lived nature and population sizes that can fluctuate according to environmental conditions. We want to ensure these species are harvested sustainably, but variations in population size can mean that there are also variations in maximum sustainable yield.

Improving our standard

Squid, crab and octopus fisheries are currently  under-represented in the MSC Fisheries Standard program. Increasing engagement of these fisheries could play a key role in ensuring sustainability in some large marine ecosystems.

Squid, crab and octopus can be difficult to assess under the Fisheries Standard due to their short lifespans and varying recruitment that can be impacted by environmental conditions including currents and temperature. We therefore want to make sure the Standard is more accessible to fisheries catching these species and aim to develop new guidance that will help to clarify our intent for their assessment.

An initial review concluded that the Fisheries Standard is appropriate for the assessment of squid, crab and octopus, and that species-specific assessment trees are not required.

Assessing squid fisheries

The life history of squid can mean that assessment under Principle 1 may be challenging. Squid are not always managed around a maximum sustainable yield (MSY) that is central to the default scoring within the MSC Fisheries Standard. This is primarily due to the variability in the number of squid produced each year that grow to a viable size, and the life-history traits of this species group rendering such estimates difficult to ascertain.

We aim to develop additional guidance to aid the assessment of squid, specifically in relation to the use of proxies to demonstrate the stock status of squid is at a level consistent with maximum sustainable yield.

Assessing crab fisheries

Following a desktop review of crab fisheries engaged in the MSC program and a review of pre-assessments, we held a pre-assessment exercise to identify areas of the Fisheries Standard which require further guidance. The exercise concluded that additional guidance is needed for fisheries consisting of male-only harvest to protect the reproductive potential of the population.

Assessing octopus fisheries

As with squid and crab species groups, additional guidance has been recommended for octopus species groups to better allow assessment teams to apply the requirements.

How could the standard change?

The changes proposed could lead to a change in the guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard on assessment of squid, crab and octopus. It is not anticipated that bespoke assessment trees will be needed for these species groups.

Progress to date

Initial scoping work for these species groups included assessing pre-assessments where available. Consultants contracted by the MSC provided initial feedback with respect to moving these projects forward, with the intent being guidance additions to overcome challenges that assessments may have for applying the MSC Fisheries Standard to these species groups.

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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