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 shared or highly migratory stocks managed across multiple jurisdictions, 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, there is a lack of urgency and in many cases, political influence results in decisions that benefit short term economic gains and favour historical catch levels.

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

Specific to MSC certified fisheries, fisheries management authorities responsible for managing multi-jurisdictional fisheries 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

We have developed policy options for revisions to our Standard. The proposed policy options were presented to our Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council, who provided advice and made recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

The Board decided which policies will be taken forward in the review to be refined and undergo further impact testing. 

This project has been split into two components, and the standard revisions proposed for each are detailed below: 

Component 1: Clarifying existing requirements for the assessment of harvest strategies under Principle 1

We are proposing the addition of definitions for both ‘responsive’ harvest strategy and ‘designed’ harvest strategy to the Fisheries Standard requirements. This will help ensure fisheries are scored consistently.

  • 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. 


Component 2: Addressing issues fisheries may face in resolving conditions of certification related to harvest strategies 

We are focussing on developing requirements that incentivise the adoption of harvest strategies for shared or highly migratory stocks managed under a multi-jurisdictional framework. 

We are proposing the introduction of a phased condition pathway to support these fisheries in  resolving conditions of certification. 

Fisheries would be set pre-defined milestones over two phases:

Phase 1 – Science focus
Fisheries must demonstrate they are developing a harvest strategy and have completed a management strategy evaluation (MSE). Harvest strategies developed under through MSE are more robust to uncertainty and allow the testing and definition of specific management objectives. 

Progress for the completion of Phase 1 would be audited by an independent conformity assessment body (CAB)

Phase 2 – Policy Focus
The second phase will focus on implementing the new harvest strategy policy. A key step will be to ensure fisheries managers agree to and adopt the strategy proposed and put in place mechanisms to manage catches accordingly. 

This step will be audited by the CAB and assessed against the MSC Fisheries Standard. 

This phased approach would give fisheries more time (up to 10 years) to develop and adopt stock-wide harvest strategies and harvest control rules. However, fisheries that enter the phased condition pathway would be expected to reach a higher level of performance with respect to their sustainability in comparison to improvements made in the standard five-year period for resolving conditions. 

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

Find out about the next steps in the review

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

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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