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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.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 33% of global fish stocks are fished at unsustainable levels with another 60% already being fished at their maximum sustainable level.

MSC requirements for maintaining fish stocks

Principle 1 (sustainable fish stocks) of the MSC Fisheries Standard requires that fisheries do not overfish or deplete their target stock. For stocks that are already depleted, the fishery must provide evidence that the stock is recovering.

The Fisheries Standard requires that the target stocks are fluctuating around a level that produces the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Stock size is the amount (biomass) of fish that remain in the water. The MSY is the largest catch that fishers can take from a fish stock each year without affecting future years.

When assessing a fishery, certification bodies look at both the stock size and the harvest strategies associated with the fishing of that stock. A harvest strategy is the combination of monitoring, stock assessment, harvest control rules and management actions taken by a fishery. The harvest strategy needs to maintain stocks at a level that can support the maximum sustainable yield, or help it recover to this level if the stock has dropped below this.

Fish stocks are dynamic. Fluctuating environmental conditions and populations, combined with variation in fishing effort, mean that the size of fish populations, and the potential maximum sustainable yield, will change over time. This is especially true for small pelagic fish (fish that do not feed at the ocean bottom or near the shore) like herring or sprat, or short-lived invertebrates such as squid and octopus. To take variability and uncertainty into account, the MSC Fisheries Standard requires that harvest strategies are robust and precautionary.

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 can be 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.

The new version of the MSC Fisheries Standard contains new requirements to support fisheries managed by RFMOs in developing effective stock-wide harvest strategies. Fisheries will be given longer to develop and adopt harvest strategies but must achieve a higher level of performance by the end of the process. Find out more about how our new requirements will impact RFMO-managed fisheries

Find out more

Working with mixed fisheries

Working with mixed fisheries

The MSC is working towards making the MSC program more accessible for mixed fisheries.

Improving fisheries management

Improving fisheries management

The MSC seeks to reward best practice in fisheries management and to support fisheries that are working to improve their management systems.

Our approach to data-limited fisheries

Our approach to data-limited fisheries

To ensure the MSC program is accessible to all, we developed a methodology for the assessment of data-deficient fisheries: the Risk-Based Framework.