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We want to ensure that highly diverse fisheries that catch multiple species at once, also known as mixed fisheries, can be certified against the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Currently the MSC Fisheries Standard is based on single-species management requiring each individual species  be assessed independently against the requirements. This can be a barrier for some mixed fisheries. 

In a single-species fishery, management is based on the amount of fish that can be harvested from a given population without overfishing. This concept is known as Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). There are many fisheries in the MSC program that are managed using MSY, such as certified tuna fisheries.

In a mixed fishery, management based on the MSY of just one of the caught species does not necessarily maintain all caught species at that level. The more species in the catch, the more costly and difficult it is to monitor and manage each one individually. Species in the catch can have different population sizes, breeding rates and some species might be more impacted by fishing than others.

In addition, different species often interact with each other. For example, if one species is the predator or prey of another then harvesting one will probably affect the abundance of the other.

Improving our standard

Please note that the revisions to our requirements and guidance for mixed fisheries is part of our Fisheries Standard Review but is on an extended timeline. We are currently assessing the impact of the new and updated Principle 1 requirements for mixed fisheries. This page will be updated once the revisions have been confirmed.

We want to develop modifications to the Standard for mixed fisheries, and identify whether it would be acceptable to focus assessments on only the highest risk species. Fisheries would still be required to evaluate the risk to all species using a precautionary approach, but not manage each one directly. 

This review could change the requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard related to the harvest strategy component in Principle 1. They will not impact the existing assessment requirements, but instead alternative requirements will be added to be used by Conformity Assessment Bodies when considering a mixed-species fishery. 

We do not think it would weaken the Standard because the precautionary approach involved results in lower allowable yields than those produced with full data.

Fisheries Standard 3.0 implementation

Timelines have been extended for the implementation of MSC Fisheries Standard Version 3.
Fisheries Standard 3.0 implementation

Developing our policies

To evaluate the benefit of a modified Standard for mixed fisheries we undertook a global best practice review of science and management practices. We compiled case studies from around the world and listened to experts in an international workshop. 

This resulted in a draft index-species Standard. With the support of the Walton Family Foundation we conducted feasibility trials of this in mixed stock demersal fisheries in Indonesia and Mexico. We found that there is a need for a modified Standard that offers an alternative management approach to meeting the stock status outcome requirements in Principle 1 (sustainable fish stocks) of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Read the report from our global best practice review of science and management practices for mixed fisheries.

We also commissioned a further best practice review of multispecies fisheries, which was published in 2022. This review, alongside further research, will be used to update a consultation document on mixed fisheries, which was published in 2016. 

We also worked with stakeholders in the industry and environmental experts to develop requirements and guidance for mixed fisheries. The proposed modifications will provide an assessment framework based on the index-species management approach.

MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0

MSC Fisheries Standard version 3.0

An overview of the changes made to our Standard.

Fisheries Program Documents

Fisheries Program Documents

The MSC Fisheries Standard and General Certification Requirements.