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.

Improving our Standard

Our Standards include criteria for assessing how fisheries are preventing ghost fishing. These criteria assess ghost gear impacts indirectly. 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 want to make sure that Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) are assessing the impact of ghost fishing on marine life consistently and correctly. We therefore want to clarify the requirements for ghost fishing within the MSC Fisheries Standard.

In recent years there have been advances in best practice management, such as the release of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) voluntary guidelines on marking fishing gear to reduce the risk of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear. We aim to align the requirements in the Fisheries Standard with the latest in best practice management, with a focus on gear loss avoidance strategies and mitigation actions in MSC certified fisheries.

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.

In practice, this could mean that fisheries will have to demonstrate how they are reducing the impact of gear loss and ghost fishing. The improvement options proposed could increase the rigour of how fisheries are assessed in terms of ghost gear, and lead to increased transparency in the assessment process. We will ensure that assessors have the tools and guidance they need to effectively assess a fishery.

Proposed revisions to the Standard

Policy options proposing changes to the Fisheries Standard have been developed following stakeholder consultations, desk-based research and impact assessments. The 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 made a decision as to which policies will be taken forward in the review. The policies are detailed below:

Implementation of a management strategy to minimise gear loss and ghost gear impact
Fisheries may be required to implement a strategy to minimise gear loss and the impact of ghost fishing on the environment, including on the target fishery. The strategy should be informed by best practice. We intend to provide a number of examples of best practice via new guidance. 

Extending the definition of ghost gear
The definition of ghost gear may be extended to include lost, abandoned and discarded fish aggregating devices (FADs), resulting in a change in application of the Fisheries Standard. This will strengthen the auditability of fisheries and set clear expectations for fisheries, such as tuna fisheries, using these devices. 

View our impact assessment report 'Supporting the prevention of gear loss and ghost fishing'

Stakeholders provided feedback on the proposed revisions throughout May and June 2021. Read our consultation document to find out more about the proposed revisions and focus of the survey. 


Find out about the next steps in the review. 

Progress so far

Stakeholder consultations

In June 2020 we held three virtual workshops on the topic of 'Preventing gear loss and ghost fishing'. Participants could also provide input through an online survey.  

We also held a series of workshops on the topic of ‘Introducing requirements on the type and quality of evidence needed for scoring fisheries’, which discussed gear loss and ghost fishing. 

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 June 2020 consultation on 'Preventing gear loss and ghost fishing'

We have previously held workshops with assessors on how existing fishery assessments consider the impact of ghost gear and mitigation. Consultation with our stakeholders at international events has also increased our understanding of how ghost gear is currently being assessed and how best practice is evolving.

Identifying methods of best practice

We also carried out benchmarking exercises to identify methods of best practice that are currently being implemented or developed by other global sustainability organisations, such as the FAO , the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

We also investigated best practice as used by different regional and national fishery authorities and that being developed by NGO initiatives (e.g. through the Global Ghost Gear Initiative), including methods featured in other fishery standards.

Next steps

In June 2021, we consulted on the proposed revisions to our Standard via a public survey. We will analyse the data gathered from the consultation and carry out further impact testing to refine the proposed revisions to our Standard. 

At the end of 2021 the proposed revisions will be reviewed again by our Governance bodies. 

Reviewing the proposed revisions

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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