Ensuring ecosystem performance indicators are clear

Principle 2 of the MSC Fisheries Standard covers the effect a fishery has on the environment.

A key part of this is ensuring MSC certified fisheries do not cause irreversible harm to the structure and function of an ecosystem. This can, for example, mean making sure important species that act as food for the whole ecosystem are not removed. It also means not affecting the overall biodiversity, health and resilience of an ecosystem to be able to adapt to environmental changes.

Improving our standard

Our Performance Indicators related to Ecosystem requirements have not been updated since 2011. We want to ensure the Ecosystem requirements are clear and consistently applied across fisheries assessments. If requirements are unclear, difficult to apply or left open to interpretation, then they could be applied inconsistently.

How could the standard change?

This review could change the requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard on ecosystem assessments. The review will focus on performance indicators under Principle 2 of our Standard where ecosystem outcomes, ecosystem management strategy and ecosystem information are assessed.

Proposed revisions to the Standard

Policy options proposing changes to the Fisheries Standard have been developed following a review of fisheries assessment reports, consultation with assessors, and an exploratory impact assessments. The policy options were presented to the MSC Technical Advisory Board Ecosystem Working Group who provided advice and made recommendations to the full Technical Advisory Board.

In March 2021, the MSC Board of Trustees selected the following to be taken forward and refined:

Clarifying language and definitions 

We will clarify the language used in our Standard and guidance, include definitions of ‘ecosystem’ and ‘key (ecosystem) elements’. 

These changes would mean that aspects such as abundance and distribution of key trophic species, (including ‘keystone’ predators and prey) are clearly identified. These changes will ensure our ecosystem requirements are applied more consistently during fishery assessments. 

Developing new training materials for assessors

We also want to improve the training we offer conformity assessment bodies (CABs) and their fishery assessors. This will include developing new description materials and case studies for the assessment of ecosystems under Principle 2 and would help make sure fisheries are scored more consistently. 

You can read our impact assessment report detailing the positive and negative impacts associated with the proposed changes.

Assessing ecosystem impacts in other Fisheries Standard Review projects 

Assessing the impact of fisheries on ecosystems is also being considered in other projects in the Fisheries Standard Review.

We are reviewing the requirements and guidance of our Risk-Based Framework to ensure it continues to delivery precautionary and consistent assessments for data-limited fisheries. The Risk-Based Framework can be used by fisheries who lack comprehensive scientific data to assess their impacts on aspects such as stock populations, habitats and ecosystems.

We are also reviewing the level of evidence that fisheries must provide to demonstrate they meet the Fisheries Standard. This includes evidence to demonstrate the impact of a fishery on an ecosystem. 

Through our 'Making the MSC Fisheries Standard more efficient’ project we will also clarify the language used in ecosystem performance indicators, and remove duplication. 

Progress so far

We have conducted a review of the reports from Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) that consider fisheries performance against the Ecosystem requirements. We have considered current scoring methods, how conditions are set and the databases providing technical oversight to assessors. CABs have also provided feedback on this topic in a workshop in 2019.


Next steps

We will refine proposed changes to our Standard throughout 2021. This will include pilot assessments to make sure CABs can effectively apply the revisions proposed during fishery assessments.  

By the end of 2021, we will have draft of the revised MSC Fisheries 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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