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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 2022/23, 19% of the global seafood catch was engaged in the MSC program (meaning certified, in assessment, or in-transition to MSC), 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

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 19 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).

Find out more

Ocean Stewardship Fund

Ocean Stewardship Fund

Funding scientific innovative research and supporting fisheries at all stages on the path to sustainability

Fishery Improvement Projects

Fishery Improvement Projects

Supporting Fishery Improvement Projects through our tools and In-Transition to MSC program.

Our Capacity Building Program

Our Capacity Building Program

Supporting fisheries worldwide that are improving towards sustainability and MSC certification.

Making Waves: Small-scale fisheries report

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.