Ensuring habitat performance indicators are clear

We want MSC certification to protect habitats around the globe, and the impacts a fishery has on habitats is always considered in an MSC assessment.

A fishery cannot be certified if it causes serious damage or irreversible impact on the structure and function of a seafloor habitat. Principle 2 of the MSC Fisheries Standard defines this as damage from which a habitat will take 20 years or longer to recover. For very sensitive types of habitats called Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) any fishery impact should be avoided. 


Improving our standard

While the previous Fisheries Standard Review considerably strengthened our requirements on habitats, concerns have since been raised by stakeholders regarding a lack of clarity and guidance. This could be leading to misapplication of the intent and inconsistent assessments. Several questions from stakeholders have already required us to publish additional guidance for Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), referred to as 'Interpretations'. 

We want to understand the nature, scope and extent to which the habitat requirements have been misapplied. We will then develop a series of options that will clarify the language used in the requirements and guidance. 

We want these clarifications to improve the understanding of the criteria and consistency in how they are applied by assessors. We expect different assessors working for different certification bodies to deliver the same outcomes when they assess the same fishery against our Standard.  


How could the standard change?

This review could lead to a change in the requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard on habitat component. These revisions will primarily be based on existing published interpretations and could involve giving assessors new tools and guidance to apply our Standards consistently across fisheries. 


Progress so far

We conducted an initial desk-based review and assessor workshop. This highlighted over 30 issues with the implementation of the habitats requirements component. Most of these have been clarified and published as interpretations on the MSC interpretation log

As a part of the workshop, we asked assessors to assess an imaginary fishery. This helped us to identify the issues with the habitats and ecosystems criteria that have led to misapplication and inconsistency of assessment outcomes.  

Drafting of several clarifications on requirements and guidance sections is underway, in response to issues identified. The aim of this work is to ensure the options put forward retain clear language and support consistent application of the habitat Performance Indicators. These focus on clarifications around: 

  • Identification and impact evaluation of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs); 
  • Implementation of precautionary management measures for VMEs. 

As part of our current Fisheries Standard Review, we are also considering ecosystem assessments as part of Ensuring the Risk-Based Framework continues to deliver consistent assessments for data-limited fisheries. 

Stakeholder consultations

In July 2020, we held two virtual workshops on the topic of 'Clarifying the MSC’s habitats requirements'. Stakeholders could provide additional feedback though a follow-up survey (an online form). 

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

View the summary report from the July 2020 consultation on 'Clarifying the MSC's habitats requirements'.


Next steps

We are currently developing options for revisions to our Standard.

To inform these options, we are carrying out data analysis to understand how vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) have been designated and scored under the habitats performance indicators during fishery assessments. An independent review of global best practice in identifying and managing VMEs is expected to be completed in June 2021

We will also seek advice and guidance from our Technical Advisory Board and engage with specialist stakeholder groups for further input through targeted consultations.

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.

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

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