Making the MSC Fisheries Standard more efficient

The MSC Fisheries Standard is used to assess if a fishery is well-managed and sustainable.

Improving our standard

The MSC Fisheries Standard has a complex structure and scoring system. This can lead to costly and lengthy assessments, as well as inconsistencies in application of our Standard in assessments

We want to simplify our Standard and make sure language is clear and easily understood by all stakeholders. This will mean our Standard can be applied more efficiently. It will also help to reduce the barriers for new fisheries seeking certification and help certified fisheries stay in the program more easily.

We also want to improve the collection of data, to ensure rigorous monitoring of fisheries is taking place and improve evidence-based decision making.

How could the standard change?

The changes proposed could lead to a change in requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard. They will not impact the intent, rigour or thresholds of the Standard.

We aim to clarify language and definitions, reduce the number of components in the Standard and reduce redundancy in Principle 2 outcome, management and information performance indicators. 

Proposed revisions to the Standard

Policy options proposing changes to the Fisheries Standard have been developed following stakeholder consultations, desk-based research and initial impact assessments. The policy options were presented to the MSC’s Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council  who provided advice and made recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

In March 2021, the Board of Trustees decided which options for revisions will be taken forward and refined. These are:

Clarifying language and reducing duplication

We will clarify the language used in Principle 2 of our Standard and remove duplication within its Performance Indicators. This will include changing the Standard so that scoring issues only address one question at each scoring guidepost, and the removal of redundant and ambiguous language. 

We will also minimise cross-referencing to definitions and guidance by both clarifying language and providing links to our guidance documents. 

Clarification of definitions

To make sure assessments are more accurate and efficient, we will clarify the definitions of the following management terms used within Principle 2 of our Standard: 

  • ‘Measures’
  • ‘Partial Strategy’
  • ‘Strategy’

The meaning and intent of these terms will not change, however we will provide a table of definitions that consolidates current requirements and guidance on the scale and scope of these terms. This will make it easier for fisheries and assessors to understand the meaning of each term, and the differences between them.

Simplify groupings of Principle 2 species

Currently, species that are scored under Principle 2 of our Standard are grouped into several categories including ‘main’ and ‘minor’, and ‘managed’ and ‘unmanaged’. However, these categories are not commonly used to categorise species outside of the MSC, which can lead to confusion for stakeholders and adds complexity for assessors. 

We are proposing a simpler method of categorising species, including the removal of ‘main’ and ‘minor’ groupings and allowing similar species to be scored together rather than individually. We anticipate this will help make  assessments more efficient and clearer for all stakeholders.

Progress to date

Stakeholder consultations

We ran a consultation survey on the topic of ‘Reviewing proposals to restructure the MSC Fisheries Standard and simplify the scoring system’. The survey was open to all on the MSC website between 26 June and 29 July 2020.

We have published a consultation summary report, which includes survey feedback and a descriptive analysis of participants. Commercially sensitive and personal details have been redacted. Please note that the report does not contain details of policy direction. 

View the consultation summary report on 'Reviewing proposals to restructure the MSC Fisheries Standard and simplify the scoring system'.

Analysis and independent research

We have also carried out qualitative and quantitative analysis to identify the structural components of the Standard – such as performance and scoring indicators – that may not affect the outcome of assessments.

We have also held workshops with Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), assessors and independent experts to identify areas of the Standard that could be simplified without changing the intent.

We have now commissioned independent research to investigate alternative structures and scoring approaches that would enable us to maintain the same level of sustainability performance with a simplified structure.


Next steps

We are now working with independent assessors to make sure the proposed changes to our Standard are both more efficient and maintain the same sustainability outcomes. 

By the end of 2021, we will have drafted 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.

Sign up to our Fisheries Standard Review mailing list to receive updates about the review, engagement events and consultations.

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