Shark finning: identifying further solutions

Shark finning is the cruel practice of removing any of the fins of a shark (including the tail) and discarding the remainder of the shark at sea. Shark finning is a wasteful and abhorrent practice that is strictly prohibited within MSC certified fisheries.

The MSC Fisheries Standard requires certification bodies to assess the likelihood that any vessel in a fishery is engaged in shark finning. This is part of the scoring for both Principle 1 (sustainable stocks) and Principle 2 (minimising environmental impact).

Improving our Standard

Our recent updating of the MSC Fisheries Certification Process v2.2 clarified the MSC Board's intent that shark finning is not to be undertaken within MSC certified fisheries. But there are still concerns that the current requirements do not reflect global best practice or lead to consistent outcomes. 

Under our current Standard, a Fins Naturally Attached policy is an option for scoring at the best practice level (SG80) and above, but it is not mandatory. Fisheries without such a policy can also achieve certification by demonstrating improvements in management measures, such as increasing levels of external validation.

This review will consider whether our current shark finning requirements deliver the needed confidence that shark finning is not occurring in an MSC certified fishery. We want to make sure we have the right incentives for fisheries seeking certification to actively improve their efforts to prevent shark finning.  

How could the Standard change?

The result of the review could lead to a change in requirements and guidance of the MSC Fisheries Standard.

This means we could see a change in the way the requirements are articulated, to ensure the intent is clear. Most notably, we may need to make changes to the evidence required for Conformity Assessment Bodies to ensure compliance with our shark finning requirements.  

We will not change the intent of the Fisheries Standard, which is to ensure shark finning does not occur within MSC certified fisheries. Any changes will be in line with current global best practice both for management and identification or monitoring of shark finning, and will be informed through consultancies with independent experts, consultation with stakeholders and impact assessments.


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Introducing the proposed revisions: Preventing shark finning


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 proposed revisions relating to ‘Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning’ are detailed below.

Fins Naturally Attached is the only acceptable policy

Under the proposed revised Standard, a Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) policy will be mandatory for fisheries that retain sharks. This policy will be required for fisheries to achieve the minimum acceptable score (SG60) for certification, with SG60 the only level under which shark finning will be scored. 

Stronger evidence requirements to verify policies are working

Our proposed new evidence requirements framework will provide greater confidence that a FNA policy is being applied, by requiring assessors to consider the quality of the evidence used to confirm its implementation. For instance, assessors need to look for evidence that a fishery is monitoring its interactions with sharks to ensure that breaches of an FNA policy would be detected. This could involve on-board monitoring systems, inspections by enforcement officers or other methods.

The evidence requirements framework will also be applied in cases where fisheries operate under non-retention policies (where management requires that sharks are released whole if captured). In such cases, assessors will also be applying the new evidence requirement framework, to ensure that non-retention policies are being properly implemented.

By ensuring fisheries that retain sharks have an FNA policy - and having the evidence requirements assess the quality of information for any fishery that capture sharks, whether retained or released - the proposed changes will make certain that shark finning does not take place within MSC certified fisheries.

Bespoke shark definition scored under 'shark finning'

There is no globally accepted definition for 'shark' and the lack of a definition in our current version of our Standard has led to inconsistencies in the way different species are considered in the shark finning requirements. To resolve this, we have proposed a new default definition of a shark in our Standard requirements, with respect to shark finning. The new Standard requirements define sharks as selachimorpha (true sharks) and rhinopristiformes (e.g. shovel nose rays, guitar fishes). This covers all the species most vulnerable to the shark fin trade and exceeds the legal requirements of many jurisdictions where the term ‘shark’ is applied. However, if a fishery operates within a jurisdiction which defines additional species as sharks, then the assessor must consider those species too.  

Making sure ETP species of sharks are not being finned

Shark finning will still be assessed under both Principle 1 and Principle 2 of the Fisheries Standard, as well as being in our scope criteria. Under the new requirements proposed, shark finning will now also be scored within the Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species requirements in Principle 2. 

Under the MSC's current Standard, there is no explicit scoring of shark finning as part of our Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species requirements. This is because the assumption was that because the species were ETP, they would not be retained but they would be released whole into the water. Under our new requirements, fisheries that capture sharks listed as ETP will now have to explicitly assess that shark finning is not taking place.

Download the 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

An FNA policy is the most effective, acceptable and feasible way to address shark finning and will continue to ensure shark finning is not taking place in MSC certified fisheries. The adoption of FNA as the only acceptable policy for fisheries that retain sharks, will also simplify assessments and be easier to audit.  

Applying the new evidence requirements framework will increase confidence that shark finning is not taking place in MSC certified fisheries. This is because the evidence requirements framework will ensure that fisheries can only be certified if they have adequate evidence, of a high quality, to demonstrate an FNA policy is being implemented.   

The proposed default definition for sharks will also improve the consistency of scoring and ensure the most vulnerable species to shark finning are better assessed. By developing our default definition, the MSC has exceeded the majority of global management jurisdictions

Impact assessments 

We carry out impact assessments to understand the positive and negative 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.

MSC Fisheries Standard - Impact Assessment Report - Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning (Nov 2021)
Description: MSC Fisheries Standard - Impact Assessment Report - Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning (Nov 2021)

Language: English
Date of issue: 01 February 2022
MSC Fisheries Standard Review - Impact assessment report - Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning
Description: A summary of the impact assessment undertaken for alternative policy options developed for the project ' Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning', which is part of the 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.

Follow the links below to find out more about the different inputs which contributed to the development of our proposed policies on ‘Identifying further solutions to ensure MSC certified fisheries are not involved in shark finning’.



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