Minimising fishing impacts on ecosystems and habitats

The MSC Fisheries Standard rewards fisheries that protect ecosystems and habitats in the places where they fish.

Fishing, like all human activities, has an impact on the environment.

Ecosystems and habitats can be changed or damaged by fishing. For example, bottom trawled fishing gear can have an impact on vulnerable seafloor habitats – places where endangered or slow-growing species such as sea pens and sponges grow.

It’s important that fisheries understand, manage and mitigate their potential impacts. Actions fisheries take may include closing areas off from fishing, using better fishing gear and monitoring ecosystems more closely.


MSC requirements for ecosystems and habitats

The Fisheries Standard’s Principle 2 (minimising environmental impact) covers the effect a fishery has on the environment. There are five components to this Principle:

The habitat impacts of a fishery are always considered in an MSC assessment. A fishery cannot be certified if it causes serious damage or irreversible impact on the structure and function of a seafloor habitat. The Standard defines irreversible impact as damage from which a habitat will take 20 years or longer to recover. 

Assessors also look at the wider ecosystem impacts of the fishery, including the removal of important species that are food for the ecosystem, such as sardines. They also look at the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem and its resilience to change. Simulations of the ecosystem are sometimes used to estimate its status.

Latest global efforts

Fisheries like the MSC certified shrimp fishery in West Greenland are taking action to understand and reduce their impacts. They now use a new net with a lighter trawl door to minimise its impacts on the sea floor. 

Global scientific research, such as ecosystem modelling, provides a source of information about ecosystems that is incorporated into fisheries management. The MSC's key low trophic level requirements are based on the current scientific understanding of the impacts of these species on ecosystems. 

The certified Antarctic krill fishery was assessed using the low trophic level requirements in the Fisheries Standard. This means the impact of this fishery on the ecosystem were considered, including impacts on penguins and marine mammals that consume large amounts of krill. The best available science from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) suggests that krill fishing is at such a low level that there are no impacts on the ecosystem.

Improving our Standards

Every few years we review the MSC Standards so they remain relevant. This allows us to incorporate widely accepted new science and fisheries management best practice, as well as improve implementation and address stakeholder concerns. 

Find out how the Fisheries Standard Review aims to:

Stakeholders from all sectors are at the heart of our review, helping identify issues, develop solutions and test proposed changes. Find out more about opportunities to get involved in reviewing our Standards.

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