MSC scientific research

The MSC collaborates with scientists and researchers around the world. We provide data for global reports and work together on important new research. This page outlines research projects we're currently involved in.

The MSC and the United Nations

The UN recognises the MSC as a major ocean stakeholder. We contribute to the work of UN bodies such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in a number of ways. 

Data from the MSC is used by the UN Environment Programme and other intergovernmental organisations to track progress towards international goals to end overfishing and protect biodiversity.

The latest UN Biodiversity Report highlights the contribution of MSC certified fisheriesto global progress on the sustainable management and harvesting of fish.

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Our research shows that MSC certified fisheries are helping to deliver up to 34 different SDG targets.

Sustainably managing shifting fish stocks

The research challenge

As climate change continues to have impact on our oceans, more fish species will be affected by warming waters. Many species are moving towards the poles and out of their historic ranges as a direct result. This leads to a number of environmental and socioeconomic issues.

Some fisheries are experiencing lower harvests due to less fish being available. Others who now have access to newly arrived fish on their shores, are unable to access their share. This is because existing quota allocations are based on historic distributions. Transboundary species – those that move between two or more coastal states or Exclusive Economic Zones – may require new intergovernmental agreements.

How do we sustainably manage stocks that are shifting? And what practices can be used to ensure management is adaptive and able to react to changing conditions?

The solution

A research project will test options for an adaptive allocation system in order to sustainably manage shifting stocks across U.S State management boundaries. The socioeconomic benefits and trade-offs of these options will also be assessed.

The project will be completed using a retrospective analysis for fisheries already facing issues in the U.S Mid-Atlantic, namely summer flounder and black sea bass. If for example a change in their catch allocation had been made based on their current distribution and sooner, how would that have affected the future? Perceptions will be recorded through a series of consultations with fishery managers and industry stakeholders. If the trials are successful, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will consider adopting these new rules.

Who benefits?

Initially, fisheries under the jurisdiction of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council will benefit. However, this work will produce a replicable model that could be used to support other decision makers. The research will also identify other U.S fisheries that are experiencing rapid shifts in stock range and flag fisheries at risk from conflict around allocation of quotas. It could also potentially inform management of transboundary stocks.

Research partners

This research is funded through the Pew Charitable Trust’s Lenfest Ocean Program. It is led by Rod Fujita at the Environmental Defense Fund and Prof Arielle Levine at San Diego State University. Co-principle investigators include Dr Katie Longo, Senior Scientist at the MSC, Scott Crosson at NOOA Fisheries, Prof. Olaf Jensen, University of Wisconsin, Prof. Lisa Wainger, University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, Chris Dumas, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Juliano Palacios, San Diego State University and advisors: Bob Beale, Executive Director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Ellen Bolen, Deputy Director for Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

For more information, please contact standards@msc.org

Monitoring socio-economic impacts of MSC program

The research challenge

The impact of the MSC program on environmental sustainability is an established area of research. However, the social and economic effects that occur as a result of certification are less well understood. Although there are some published studies on this topic and lots of anecdotal information from practitioners on the ground, it is difficult to know whether these observations can be generalised without a balanced, rigorous program-wide study. This research will help us to understand the positive, negative, direct and indirect consequences of the MSC program.

The solution

A data-collection plan that monitors the socio-economic effects of the MSC program. To do this, the MSC held multiple workshops with expert marine social scientists and economists. This group helped develop an in-person, semi-structured interview approach, which gathers perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders. The MSC has a number of stakeholders including fisheries organisation representatives, boat-owners, processors, managers and NGOs, among others.

The work was supported by a systematic review of the documented impacts of the MSC certification program. This work highlighted important research gaps in the link between fisheries and supply chain, which we hope to fill.

Our new survey was tested with a number of MSC certified fisheries around the world. Our research on the socioeconomic drivers and impacts of eight fisheries in Western Australia was published in 2020. A second study considering the experiences of three fisheries in the USA, France and Portugal is currently in review. Our survey was also the basis for the socioeconomic research with NEF Consulting which considered the experiences of two certified fisheries in the UK.

This has helped us gain a better understanding of what influences the choice to join, or leave, the MSC Program. It has also helped us understand what market dynamics and stakeholder relationships mean for the different actors involved, certified or not. It provides evidence for how MSC's Theory of Change works on the ground.

Who benefits?

This research will contribute to more transparent reporting and a well-rounded understanding of the overall impacts of the MSC program. It will also identify negative effects that might need to be addressed in future. Recent research in the journal Science highlighted that comparatively little research has been undertaken on the social dimension of seafood sustainability and we hope that our project will contribute to fill this gap.

Research partners

The initial survey development was led by Chris Anderson, University of Washington, Seattle, USA and Amber Himes-Cornell at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization , Rome, Italy. It was further developed by Ingrid van Putten at CSIRO, Hobart, Australia. The project draws on expertise from MSC staff around the world as well as external economists, social and political scientists. 

For more information, please contact standards@msc.org

Innovation in managing fishing impacts on habitats

The research challenge

The latest MSC Fisheries Standard (version 2.0) has new rules that ensure stronger protection for habitats. Fisheries now need to show there is no serious or irreversible harm on habitats from their fishing activities. To do this, they need to understand how their activities impact the seabed.  

The solution

We’re working with researchers at Bangor University to create software for fisheries assessors to use to better measure the impacts of fishing gear and vessels. It will draw on available habitat data and identify the combinations of habitat and fishing gear types that lead to serious damage – damage that takes more than 20 years for the habitat to recover.

Who benefits?

Fisheries will be able to use this tool to understand and manage their habitat impacts. It will also help to provide quantitative evidence for third-party assessment bodies who assess fisheries against the MSC Standard. This is necessary for protecting sponges, corals and other rare sea floor species and habitats.

Research partners

This research is a collaboration with Bangor University, UK.

For more information, please contact standards@msc.org

Supporting data-limited fisheries

The research challenge

Many well-managed fisheries might not have the sort of data on the species they catch or the places they fish that are usually used in MSC assessments. This includes traditionally operated small-scale fisheries and those in the Global South. 

The MSC has already provides a Risk-Based Framework that combines expert judgement with a series of analytic tools to score fisheries against the MSC Fisheries Standard. However, other data-limited methods that are sometimes used to guide fisheries management, are difficult to apply to the Standard. This project considers how fisheries managed with these data-limited methods can be audited consistently against the MSC Standard. The project has developed documentation and reporting templates, mechanisms for peer review and increased research and knowledge of the performance of these data-limited methods. It also provides a robust way to calculate uncertainty of fish stocks’ status and harvest strategies.  

The solution

The MSC and its research partners are developing a user-friendly fishery simulation tool, which will help data-limited fisheries understand the best approach to take. Understanding their options more clearly will ensure they have the best chance of meeting sustainability requirements. These types of tools can be fundamental in ensuring fisheries focus their resources on informative data and robust harvest strategies. The tool will also help certifiers score fisheries once they are ready to be fully assessed.

Who benefits?

Small-scale fisheries employ about 90% of the world's capture fishers but can sometimes lack the capacity to use the data they have in a robust way. By providing clearer guidance for fisheries that use less data-intensive approaches when developing harvest strategies, we hope to increase the accessibility of the MSC program to a wide range of fisheries. We want to contribute to this evolving area of important research which supports Fishery Improvement Projects around the world.

Research partners

The initial research was developed with The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council and the University of British Columbia, Canada. It is now being further developed in partnership with Tom Carruthers at BlueMatter Science and Oxford University, UK. Fisheries science experts from around the world and stakeholders in Indonesia, Mexico and Japan are also involved. The research is funded by David & Lucille Packard foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

For more information, please contact standards@msc.org

Publications



Research at the MSC

Woman fisher sitting on a boat in a lake. She is holding fishing line and there are trees in the background.

Science and research

Our research collaborations deepen our understanding of sustainable fishing and supply chain traceability.

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Students sort through and identify bycatch

The MSC Student Research Grant

The MSC Student Research Grant supports postgraduate students carrying out research with fisheries engaged or working towards the MSC program.

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