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MSC certified fisheries are well-managed and sustainable

Fisheries that are certified to the MSC environmental standard for fisheries manage target stocks in a way that ensures their ongoing productivity. Stocks in MSC certified fisheries are not overfished; and a fishery must be able to demonstrate this in the rigorous, independent, scientific, peer-reviewed process required to achieve MSC certification.  Certified fisheries that do not meet this globally accepted definition either have their certificate suspended, or withdrawn entirely.  

The definitions of ‘overfished’ and ‘overfishing’ used in the MSC Certification Requirements conform to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible fisheries and Guidelines for the Eco-labelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries. Under these definitions, a stock should be maintained at a level corresponding to maximum productivity and above a safe biological level.  Stocks are overfished if they are below this safe biological level. The MSC standard also reflects international scientific agreement on what constitutes an overfished stock, which in turn is used in most international and national regulations.   

David Agnew, MSC director of standards, said: “The MSC standard is consistent with best practice and specifically excludes fisheries that are overfished.   MSC certified fisheries are maintained at high levels of productivity. Froese and Proelss’ assertion that many MSC stocks are overfished is false.”

In their paper, authors Rainer Froese and Alexander Proelss use definitions for the term ‘overfished’ that are not accepted in scientific circles, by fisheries management authorities, or by international organisations such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) or the FAO. Christopher Zimmermann, deputy director of the Thünen Institute of Baltic Sea Fisheries and Chair of MSC’s Technical Advisory Board, comments: “The MSC uses internationally verified and recognised definitions. The definition of ‘overfished’ used by Froese and Proelss is not globally accepted. The results of the study are therefore irrelevant.”

Higher stock levels in MSC certified fisheries

All fisheries certified to the MSC standard must have a target stock level that allows the fish population to reproduce at a rate that will maintain the stock indefinitely into the future.  That target level must be maintained as a management objective, and the fishery must adjust its catch levels accordingly.

The MSC standard allows fisheries targeting stocks that have a biomass currently below a level that maximises productivity, provided two conditions are met:
1)    Stock levels are still above a point that allows sufficient spawning and reproduction to sustain the stock into the future i.e above a safe biological level and above the accepted definition of overfished; and
2)    the fishery has an effective rebuilding plan in place, that will bring stock levels back to a higher level, corresponding to maximum productivity level.

An independent study by MRAG Ltd, published in 2011, on the environmental impacts of MSC certification, shows that many fisheries improve their performance prior to certification as well as after certification - for example through increased stock sizes or reducing unintended bycatch. These results add to the growing body of evidence that documents the role of the MSC programme as an effective mechanism for a sustainable improvement of the worldwide fishing sector. 

For more information contact Kate Wilcox or Marnie Bammert.