Expanding guidance for data-limited fisheries under Principle 1

We want to make sure that all fisheries which are well-managed and sustainable can become certified, even if they do not have the data required for conventional measures, such as full analytical stock assessments.

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.

Our new Standard includes significant improvements, including better protections for marine life, as well as stronger fisheries management and compliance requirements. These improvements will ensure that MSC certified fisheries continue to be recognised as world leaders in sustainability.

Read our recent Board statement to find out more

Please note, the additional guidance for data limited fisheries is on an extended timeline until the proposed changes to our requirements under Principle 1 have been confirmed. We will then be able to assess the impact of the changes proposed for data-limited fisheries. This page will be updated once the requirements have been finalised.

Implementing the new Standard

We intend to publish the new MSC Fisheries Standard (version 3.0) from 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

Progress so far

Extension of timeline to deliver outcomes

The additional guidance for data limited fisheries is on an extended timeline until the proposed changes to our requirements under Principle 1 have been confirmed. We will then be able to assess the impact of the changes proposed for data-limited fisheries. 

Developing our policies

We carried out a review of the language used in the Standard in relation to the use of data-limited approaches and are identified key areas where dedicated guidance can clarify the interpretation of key terms such as status 'proxies' and 'monitoring' when used with these kinds of fisheries. 

We are currently developing guidance that will assist the scoring of a range of fisheries managed with data limited approaches, which will include support for how assessors may interpret outcomes of simulation-testing tools such as the Management Evaluation Risk Assessment (MERA) app, to help determine their scores.

MERA, commissioned by the MSC, is undergoing testing in fisheries in Mexico, Japan and Indonesia to further explore how it may help fisheries in improvement projects design their management procedures so that they are more likely to eventually meet MSC requirements under Principle 1. This tool will be evaluated through academic peer-review in addition to feedback from the experts and stakeholders taking part in case studies, and advice of a working group of independent experts. A beta version of MERA-MSC is available for anyone to try out and provide feedback on. 

Improving our standard

It can be difficult to score fisheries that are managed through data-limited approaches against the MSC Fisheries Standard as they lack explicit measures of stock health.

These fisheries can use surrogates or proxies to inform their harvest control rules. This means using different methods to estimate the probabilities required to meet scoring guideposts. We want to make our Standard more accessible to these fisheries.

To ensure a variety of approaches can be used to assess data-limited fisheries against our Standard, we are clarifying the language in the Standard by providing more explicit scoring guidance.

How could the standard change?

We are developing new guidance on assessing data-limited fisheries under Principle 1. This includes the interpretation of outputs from Management Strategy Evaluation which can be conducted with software such as the Management Evaluation and Risk Assessment tool (MERA). MERA is a tool which fisheries can use to test the robustness of their data limited management approaches.

This Data Limited Methods guidance will sit in the newly created MSC Fisheries Toolbox which will contain requirements and guidance for tools that aid the assessment of fisheries.

The Toolbox will house, in first instance, the Risk-Based Framework in addition to new tools, such as the new MSC Benthic Impacts tool and proposed Evidence Requirements Framework with the Data Limited Methods guidance set to be added by 2023. The Toolbox will be separate from the Standard and Process documents, which will give flexibility to improve these tools outside of a fisheries standard review process.

Download the proposed revised Standard and Toolbox 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 standards@msc.org

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.

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