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Cornish hake nets higher prices following MSC certification – study shows

Cornish hake has seen higher prices linked to MSC certification, according to a new study. While both Cornish hake and sardines have noted an improved reputation and better access to markets as a result, as outlined in the research, conducted by NEF Consulting of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) for the MSC in May 2020.

NEF consulting analysed changes to the price of first sale landings, both before and after certification for the two MSC certified fisheries in Cornwall and compared these to control groups. A social survey comprising interviews with fishers, wholesalers, vessel owners, producer organisations and management bodies, involved in the hake and sardine fisheries in Cornwall, gathered responses on a range of other socio-economic impacts associated with certification. 

The study compared the Cornish hake gillnet fishery, managed by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) and first became MSC certified in 2015, to Scottish hake, which subsequently gained its MSC certification in 2018. The price of sardines was also investigated, comparing the MSC certified Cornish fishery with non-MSC certified Dutch-landed sardines. Cornish sardines remain the only fishery of the Sardina pilchardus species that carries the MSC blue label currently.

Price increases, improved market access, reputational benefits

Between 2012 and 2015, Cornish and Scottish hake fisheries had similar prices per kilogram. At the time of certification, the average price of Cornish hake was 75% of that received by Scottish vessels. By the end of 2018, the price of Cornish hake was 138% of that at the non-certified Scottish hake fishery, suggesting a marked increase in quayside prices since certification. Over the same period, the price of sardines fluctuated greatly, both in the MSC certified Cornish fishery as well as for the Dutch-landed control group, meaning no price premium as a result of MSC was attributable.

Four out of five of those interviewed said they were satisfied with the benefits they were experiencing as a result of the MSC certification of Cornish hake. All interviewees agreed that prices had increased, market access had improved, and the reputation of the fishery had been boosted. While the case of Cornish sardines was less conclusive, the survey showed that MSC certification had brought positive benefits, with most participants citing improved market access and reputational benefits to the sardine fleet. All stakeholders interviewed at both the sardine and hake fisheries in Cornwall thought that the benefits of certification outweighed the costs associated with the assessment process.

George Clark, MSC Senior Commercial Manager, UK & Ireland, said: “At MSC, we’re always looking at ways to demonstrate the impacts certified fisheries are making, both on the sustainability of the fishery itself, but also the wider socioeconomic effects that certification can bring. By commissioning this study, we are combining quantitative data analysis with qualitative surveys at the fishery level, to determine what benefits have been realised following MSC certification.”  He continued: “We see products from these two fisheries being sold with the MSC blue label; hake and sardines on fresh counters at Waitrose and Tesco and canned sardines sold by The Pilchard Works, but have not, until now, quantified the effect of this all the way back to the fishery itself. It’s encouraging to see evidence of a potential price premium, in the case of hake, and strong evidence of improved market access and reputational gain resulting from certification for both fisheries. These are iconic fisheries and examples of how MSC certification, supply chain support for certified product, investment and good management can create socioeconomic benefits for coastal communities. We’re now able to demonstrate the impact that this can have with respect to catch value, jobs and reputation, which I think is a great success story for these two fisheries.” 

William Davies, at NEF Consulting, said: “Using different data to explore the research question was a particularly interesting aspect of this study. The use of sea fisheries data combined with survey interviews of stakeholders at a fishery level provided interesting insights into the various ways MSC certification has socioeconomic impact.”

Notes to editors 

The NEF Consulting study

In 2020, the MSC commissioned NEF Consulting to explore the social and economic benefits experienced by UK fisheries as a result of becoming MSC certified. A short version of the results can be read here while the full report can be downloaded below.

For more information regarding MSC’s work in socioeconomic impacts please visit:
  1. Current research
  2. Shifting focus: The impacts of sustainable seafood certification
  3. Australian fisheries seeking sustainability certification largely driven by social responsibility
Evaluating the socioeconomic impacts of Marine Stewardship Council certification at the fishery level
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