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

To meet the requirements of Principle 1 of the MSC Fisheries 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 and management actions that are required to bring about the sustainable management of the fishery.

However, for certain stocks, such as those managed by regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs), the development and implementation of harvest strategies is particularly challenging.

We are currently reviewing whether our Principle 1 requirements need to change to recognise these challenges and respond to advances in science or global best practice.

Challenges of implementing harvest strategies

Fisheries management authorities responsible for managing multi-jurisdictional fisheries have started developing and implementing effective harvest strategies to manage the resources under their mandate. However, progress is slow.

Not addressing long term objectives in an appropriate timeframe may end up having a negative impact on the sustainable use of the stocks. There is a need for those responsible to focus on long-term sustainability, to follow best practice and guarantee stocks are managed at an appropriate productivity level with robust management measures.

Specific to MSC certified fisheries, some regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) are not developing and implementing effective harvest strategies for all stocks they are responsible for within one certification cycle. Such a situation limits or prevent fishery clients from closing conditions related to harvest strategies and/or harvest control rules. The imposition and closure of conditions is a central component of our Theory of Change.

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.

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. 

The project has been split into two components, and the Standard revisions proposed for each are details below:


Watch video

Introducing the proposed revisions: Harvest strategies


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

Impact of proposed revisions

The introduction of new definitions for 'responsive' and designed' strategies will ensure scoring is more consistent and will make the requirements more auditable. This will also ensure harvest strategies are achieving the objective of ensuring the stock is healthy. 

The new phased approach to conditions in the bespoke annex (detailed in Component 2, above) will require fisheries that target RFMO-managed stocks to adopt more robust harvest strategies. This will give fisheries a more realistic timeframe for the development and implementation of better stock-wide strategies, reducing the risk that target stocks will become depleted.  

Currently, around one in six MSC certified fisheries would need to score using the bespoke annex.  

These changes will also offer CABs more structure in how conditions are set, strengthening their ability to audit effectively.

Impact assessment

We will continue the impact assessments to understand the consequences of our proposed policies, enabling us to judge which policies will be the most effective in solving the identified issues. We consider factors such as the feasibility of changes for fisheries, and whether any changes impact the accessibility of our program, or retention of certified fisheries in the MSC program. We also look at whether proposed changes can be effectively audited by assessors. 

Fisheries Standard Review - Impact Assessment Report - Reviewing Principle 1 with a focus on harvest strategies (Nov 2021)
Description: Fisheries Standard Review impact assessment report for the project: Reviewing Fisheries Standard Principle 1 with a focus on harvest strategies.

Date of issue: 01 February 2022

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 revised 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 >  

See below to find out more about the different inputs that contributed to the development of our proposed policies on 'Reviewing the Fisheries Standard Principle 1 with a focus on harvest strategies'.
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