Alternative management approaches for mixed and multispecies fisheries

We want to ensure that the fisheries that catch multiple species at once can become certifiably sustainable.

Currently the MSC Fisheries Standard defines target stocks by individual species, each of which must be assessed independently against the requirements. This is a barrier to mixed-species fisheries. 

Improving our standard

Having fish assessed independently can make it difficult for mixed-species fisheries comply with requirements on stock levels. Stock assessments currently focus on single species' maximum sustainable yield (MSY).  

Where there are large number of species in the catch, calculating MSY for each species is resource intensive and biologically unfeasible. This is because different species have varying biological traits and fishing may have a greater impact on some than others.  

We are therefore looking to develop a modified Standard for mixed fisheries, and 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, but not manage each one directly. This approach is called index-species based management, and has been used to assess Western Australian Fisheries. 

How could the standard change?

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. 


Progress so far

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 (deep sea) 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. 

We'll be consulting stakeholders in the industry and environmental experts to develop requirements and guidance for multi-species fisheries. The proposed modifications will provide an assessment framework based on the index-species management approach. 

Next steps

We are currently drafting new language and guidance for a revised Standard.

We will carry out pilot assessments and seek guidance from our Technical Advisory Board. This will make sure any changes to our Standard are feasible and achieve the expected outcomes. 

By the end of 2021, we will have a draft of the revised 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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