Reviewing Fisheries Standard Principle 1 with a focus on harvest strategies

Sustainable fish stocks are at the heart of the MSC program. Ensuring that the world’s fish stocks remain healthy is vital for marine ecosystems and global food security.

Improving our Standard

Protecting fish stocks is central to of the MSC Fisheries Standard. To meet the requirements of Principle 1 of the Standard, sustainable fisheries should have a robust and precautionary harvest strategy in place. A harvest strategy is the combination of monitoring, stock assessment, harvest control rules (HCRs) and management actions that are required to bring about the sustainable management of the fishery.

We are currently reviewing whether our Principle 1 requirements need to change in response to advances in science or global best practice, or could be made simpler.

How could the Standard change?

This review could change the intent of the MSC Fisheries Standard, through the development of new requirements under Principle 1. 

This project has been split into two components due to its complexity. 

First component
This component aims to clarify existing requirements for the assessment of harvest strategies under Principle 1 to ensure fisheries are scored consistently. 

Second component
The second component will address issues that fisheries may face in resolving conditions of certification when the MSC Unit of Assessment represents only part of the fishing activity that took place on a stock. 

Several topics covered in the first round of stakeholder consultations in 2020, including harvest strategy conditions and ‘available’ harvest control rules, are now part of the second component. 

This component is still under development.

Proposed revisions to the Standard

Policy options have been developed for the first component following stakeholder consultations, independent research and impact assessments.

The policy options for the first component 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 which policies will be taken forward in the review. The policy option is detailed below:

Defining 'responsive' and 'designed' harvest strategies
The policy would add definitions for both ‘responsive’ harvest strategy and ‘designed’ harvest strategy to the Fisheries Standard requirements. 

A ‘responsive’ harvest strategy would be defined as a strategy that allows stock management to adapt to the development and implementation of other elements in the strategy such as harvest control rules and to demonstrate that positive action has been taken by management when required. 

A ‘designed’ harvest strategy includes a management procedure which has been developed through management strategy evaluation. 


Progress so far

Stakeholder consultations

In June 2020 we held a virtual workshops on the topic of ‘Feasibility of Principle 1 changes for existing requirements’. Participants could provide additional input through 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 consultations on 'Feasibility of Principle 1 changes for existing requirements'

We have previously commissioned a consultancy report to investigate various types of ‘responsive’ harvest strategies, we are now exploring possible new requirements that could change the intent of Principle 1.


Next steps

We will engage with stakeholders throughout 2021 to keep them informed of developments in the Fisheries Standard Review and opportunities to provide feedback on the revisions proposed. 

The revised Standard will be publicly reviewed in early 2022 to ensure changes are clear and that the new Standard delivers the intentions of our program.

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