The MSC is working with NGOs, governments, retailers and funders around the world to create a pathway to sustainability, especially for small-scale fisheries and fisheries in developing countries.
Supporting fisheries on their path to sustainability
We developed a Pathway to Sustainability program to support all fisheries in their efforts to improve the environmental performance of their fishing practices and meet the level of the MSC Fisheries Standard.
The program has a particular focus on supporting small-scale fisheries and fisheries located in developing regions. Small-scale fisheries supply around half of the global catch and employ more than 90% of people working for fisheries, the vast majority of whom live in developing regions.
Such fisheries are currently under-represented in the MSC program. In 2020/21, 19% of the global seafood catch was engaged in the MSC program (meaning certified, in assessment or suspended), but only 20% of this catch came from fisheries in developing
regions. This is because small-scale fisheries and those in developing regions are more likely to face additional challenges in meeting our Standard, including a lack of:
- Data on aspects such as stock assessments and impacts on habitats.
- Knowledge and skills required to successfully implement improvements required by a fishery.
- Knowledge of the MSC Fisheries Standard and how it can be applied.
- Effective legal frameworks to support compliance and enforcement of the fishery management system
What is the Pathway to Sustainability?
The Pathway to Sustainability aims to help fisheries overcome these challenges by providing a collection of tools, training materials and a framework for making improvements to environmental performance. These can all be used by individual fisheries, fisheries in fishery improvement projects (FIPs) or as part of multi-fishery, multi-stakeholder Pathway Projects.
The pathway has also been developed to drive sustainable fishing on a wide scale. We collaborate with stakeholders from different sectors, including governments, research scientists, non-governmental organisations and the supply chain to create an improvement framework that can be used beyond individual fisheries or Pathway projects.
Some Pathway projects are supported by donor foundations and philanthropic organisations. One of the earliest projects, Fish For Good, was funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.
Since 2022 external funders have contributed via our Ocean Stewardship Fund, with grants from the MAVA Foundation supporting the West Africa and MedFish projects. In 2023, funding was awarded to two new Pathway projects in Canada and Portugal.
Our Pathway tools
Fishery Improvement Tools
We have developed a suite of improvement tools and templates to support fisheries progressing towards meeting the requirements of our Standard. These tools range from our MSC pre-assessment template, which is widely used by fisheries in FIPs, to our Benchmarking and Tracking tool, which allows fisheries to monitor and report on their progress using our Standard as a baseline.
The In-Transition to MSC program
Launched in 2019, the In-Transition to MSC program supports fisheries
committed to achieving MSC certification, regardless of size or location. Fisheries in the Program must use the defined MSC improvement tools and templates and have their progress verified by an independent assessor regularly for a maximum of five years before entering MSC assessment.
Small scale fisheries and those in developing economies that have been verified through the Program are eligible to apply for funding from the Transition Assistance Fund, which is part of the MSC Ocean Stewardship Fund.
Capacity Building program
Our Capacity Building program enables fisheries to develop their technical capacity and knowledge of the MSC Fisheries Standard, regardless of size, location, and socio-economic setting. The Program includes training workshops and a practical toolkit for fishery stakeholders who want to gain a better understanding of our Standard requirements, and how to use our improvement tools or implement an improvement action plan.
Pathway Projects are a collaboration between multiple fishery stakeholders from different sectors and use the MSC fishery improvement tools to provide a framework for fisheries to make the improvements needed to improve their performance against the MSC Fisheries Standard. Fisheries in Pathway Projects can also take part in Capacity Building Training and can become verified through the In-Transition to MSC program if eligible.
Not every fishery participating in a Pathway Project is incentivised to seek MSC certification, although they are all committed to making improvements towards sustainable fisheries management. Some fisheries do not have market interest in certified products but still want to improve their environmental performance due to factors such as stakeholder motivation, financial investment and other non-market incentives.
The first Pathway Projects began in 2012, with Project Inshore (now Project UK) and Western Australian fisheries. There are currently 14 Projects running worldwide, across 18 countries and involving a wide range of species and gear types.
Pathway Project Stages
There are five stages to a Pathway Project.
Stage 1: Mapping
Analysis of multiple fisheries within a selected region, with data gathered on aspects including gear types, species targeted and fleet size.
Stage 2: Pre-assessment
An advisory group selects fisheries for pre-assessment - a gap analysis against the MSC Fisheries Standard to identify areas for improvement.
Stage 3: Action plan development
Development of a plan to address gaps identified in the pre-assessment.
Stage 4: Action plan implementation
Carrying out the improvements set out in the action plan. At this stage, fisheries can be part of comprehensive FIPs and can be verified through the In-Transition to MSC program, if eligible.
Stage 5: Full MSC assessment
Fisheries choose to enter assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard (Assessment obligatory for fisheries verified through the In-Transition to MSC program).
Present and past projects
West Africa project
The MAVA Foundation recently funded two projects across five West African countries, aiming to help fisheries to improve environmental performance and build technical capacity.
Project UK supports fisheries across the United Kingdom (UK) working towards an environmentally sustainable future.
The HellasFish Project will be supporting fisheries on their pathway towards sustainability in the Greek Seas.
WWF and the MSC launched Medfish to carry out a comprehensive analysis of French and Spanish Mediterranean fisheries, using the MSC Standard as a benchmark.
Fish For Good
Fish for Good was a four-year project aiming to guide fisheries in Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa on their journey towards sustainability.
Southwest Indian Ocean Octopus Project (SWIOCeph)
A project assisting octopus fishing communities in the southwest Indian Ocean regions towards more sustainable practices.
A 3-year project supporting fisheries around Southern Italy towards more sustainable fishing practices.
Find out more
Ocean Stewardship Fund
Funding scientific innovative research and supporting fisheries at all stages on the path to sustainability
Fishery Improvement Projects
Supporting Fishery Improvement Projects through our tools and In-Transition to MSC program.
Our Capacity Building Program
Supporting fisheries worldwide that are improving towards sustainability and MSC certification.
Making Waves: Small-scale fisheries report
Our Making Waves report provides the first ever review of the collective impact of small-scale fisheries in the MSC program. It shows that not only are real ecological improvements being achieved on the water, but they are often complemented by social and economic benefits on land.