Supporting the prevention of gear loss and ghost fishing

“Ghost gear” is fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or discarded in the ocean. Fisheries certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard should minimise gear loss and must know the impact any lost gear could have on marine life.

Many fisheries are already working to minimise gear loss, and to align with evolving best practice on issues like the entanglement of marine mammals and turtles in fishing gear.

Fishing gear is expensive and hard to replace or repair, so most fishers manage it carefully. But to ensure this is happening consistently across all MSC certified fisheries, we want to introduce new requirements on gear loss and produced guidance on what we consider acceptable and best practice.

Improving our Standard

Our Fisheries Standard includes criteria for assessing how fisheries are preventing ghost fishing. These criteria assess ghost gear impacts indirectly.

But best practice has evolved substantially in the past decade with regard to managing the impact of ghost gear. Some of these advances include the development of new gear designs, new routes for safe disposal of fishing gear and new requirements from bodies such as the UN FAO on how gear should be marked and tagged to prevent loss. There have also been several examples of best practice guidelines produced by groups such as the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

We want to align the requirements in the MSC Fisheries Standard with the latest best practice, and ensure Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) are assessing the impact on marine life consistently and correctly.

Concerns have been raised by both the MSC and stakeholders that the implicit way current criteria handle this issue does not encourage fisheries to adopt effective strategies to prevent gear loss and ghost fishing. It could also lead to inconsistent assessment outcomes. We therefore propose codifying all the examples above into new guidance supporting the application of these requirements.

How could the Standard change?

The changes proposed in the review could lead to a change in intent of the MSC Fisheries Standard. This means there could be changes to outcomes delivered by changes in requirements.

Fisheries would have to show more explicitly what they are doing to prevent gear loss and mitigate the impact of any lost or discarded gear on marine life and ocean habitats.

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Introducing the proposed revisions: Preventing gear loss and ghost fishing

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Proposed revisions to the Standard

In January 2022, the MSC Board of Trustees approved the proposed Standard to enter a final period of public review, which was open between 01 February and 04 April 2022. 

We have proposed revisions to our requirements under Principle 1 of the Standard (sustainability of stocks) to make the consideration of ghost gear impact more explicit.

We have also proposed a new requirement to the Principle 2 components for Endangered, Threatened and Protected species (ETP) and Habitats which will direct fisheries to implement management strategies focused on minimising gear loss (including lost or discarded Fish Aggregation Devices) and ghost gear impact. Any fishery that has no associated ETP species will be scored on its impact on “In scope” species instead, so that ghost fishing is always considered in any assessment.

Additionally, we produced extensive guidance on what we consider minimum acceptable practice on avoiding gear loss (and reducing ghost gear impact) necessary to pass an assessment, as well as the best practice measures that fisheries need to achieve to be certified without conditions.

Although mitigation of gear loss and ghost gear impacts are already in our standards, these changes mean fisheries would have to consider them more fully and implement effective strategies to avoid gear loss and its impact.

Download the proposed revised Standard and guidance 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

Impact of proposed revisions

The proposed changes would mean that impacts from ghost gear are managed in a more comprehensive and proactive way by MSC certified fisheries, which aligns with management best practice.

This would be most significant for fisheries that are known to lose more gear such as static gear fisheries – such as gillnets and pot fisheries – and those that use Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). In order to be certified, fisheries would need to monitor lost gear and entanglements and implement marking and retrieval programmes. They would also need to minimise the impact of lost gear – such as using biodegradable locks on pots or gear designs which reduce catch efficiency if lost.

Fisheries would need to account for any FADs that are lost and be able to demonstrate they are avoiding and managing this loss, for example, by tracking or retrieving them, or showing they are low impact by being non entangling and biodegradable. We expect these new requirements to result in significant changes in FAD fishing practices by many MSC certified fisheries.

We do not expect these changes to greatly increase the length or complexity of assessments, as most fisheries are already applying measures to reduce gear loss. For those fisheries that will need to do more to record gear loss, the data collection required for certification will also be valuable for showing fisheries management compliance needed to, for example, meet regional conservation management measures.

MSC Fisheries Standard Review - Impact Assessment Report - Ghost Gear (Nov 2021)
Description: MSC Fisheries Standard Review Impact Assessment Report - Ghost Gear (Nov 2021)

Language: English
Date of issue: 01 February 2022
MSC Fisheries Standard Review - Impact Assessment Report - Supporting the prevention of gear loss and ghost fishing (Jan 2021)
Description: A summary of the impact assessment undertaken for policy options developed for the project 'Supporting the prevention of gear loss and ghost fishing', which is part of the MSC’s Fisheries Standard Review.

Language: English
Date of issue: 05 February 2021

Next steps

All feedback from the public review will be analysed alongside findings from further impact assessments and pilot tests. Changes will be incorporated into our proposals where appropriate. This will help us ensure the new Standard is clear and delivers the intent of our program. 

Our Stakeholder Advisory Council and Technical Advisory Board will review the final proposals in May 2022. 


Publishing the new Standard

The MSC Board of Trustees will be asked to make the final decision to approve the new Standard in June 2022.

If a decision is made to approve the Standard, the Board will confirm when the new Standard will be published.

Fisheries seeking certification for the first time will need to adhere to any new Standard six months after it is published.

MSC certified fisheries will have at least three years before they need to transition to the new Standard.

Sign up to our Fisheries Standard Review mailing list to receive updates about the review.

Developing our policies

The development of the proposed Standard follows two rounds of public consultation on key aspects of the review, independent research, data analysis and impact assessments to determine whether proposals are feasible and deliver our stated intentions. We have also sought advice and input from our governance bodies throughout the process.

Find out more about how we develop our standards >

Governance direction

Initial policy options were presented to the MSC’s Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council in December 2020 who provided advice and made recommendations to the Board of Trustees. 

In January 2021, the Board of Trustees decided the policies to be taken forward in the review. These were:

  • Implementation of a management strategy to minimise gear loss and ghost gear impact
  • Extending the definition of ghost gear

See the sections below to find out more about the different inputs that contributed to the development of our proposed policies on ghost gear.

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