What is the MSC?
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit organisation that recognises and rewards efforts to protect and preserve the ocean and seafood supplies for future generations. The MSC’s mission is to use its blue eco-label and fishery certification programme to contribute to sustainable fishing. This means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting habitats and ensuring that people who depend on fishing are able to maintain their livelihoods. By recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing, influencing the choices people make when they buy seafood and cooperating with partners, the MSC aims to secure fish stocks for future generations.
How does the MSC programme work?
The MSC programme includes two standards, in addition to the blue MSC eco-label on certified products. The fisheries standard is used for assessing the sustainability of fisheries while the value chain standard ensures traceability in the supply chain for MSC-certified products.
In order for fisheries to be MSC-certified, they need to be assessed by an independent third party and meet the science-based requirements of the standard. The standard contains 28 performance indicators for sustainable fishing and is developed in collaboration with experts from all over the world. Furthermore, all companies in the supply chain must meet the traceability requirements in the value chain standard. This ensures an uninterrupted supply chain in which certified seafood is identifiable, separated and traceable.
When consumers buy MSC-labelled products, they can trust them and know that they can be traced back to an MSC-certified fishery. This way, they are rewarding sustainability and contributing to preserving life in the ocean for future generations.
What does the MSC label stand for?
The blue MSC fish indicates that products with this label have been caught in the wild and in accordance with the MSC Fisheries Standard. Seafood with the blue label can be completely traced back to a certified, sustainable fishery. To summarise, the label means that the seafood is wild, sustainable and traceable.
What does sustainable fishing mean?
Sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean and ensuring that people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihood. Fisheries can be assessed regardless of their size, environment or fishing methods. The MSC Fisheries Standard is based on the most up-to-date understanding of the science and management of fisheries. When fisheries are evaluated, they need to meet three core requirements:
- Sustainable fish stocks: Are enough fish left in the ocean? Fishing must be at a level that ensures the fish population can remain productive and healthy and can survive indefinitely.
- Minimise environmental impact: What are the impacts? The fishing activity must be managed carefully so that other species and habitats within the ecosystem remain healthy.
- Effective fisheries management: Are operations well managed? MSC certified fisheries must comply with relevant laws and be able to quickly adapt to changing environmental circumstances.
Which fisheries can be assessed according to the MSC Fisheries Standard?
In accordance with the guidelines of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) for credible certification standards for seafood from sustainable fisheries, the MSC programme is open to any fisheries that engage in lawful wild fishing, with the exception of those that use toxins or explosives or who capture mammals. This means that any qualifying fisheries that fish with a legal fishing method can be voluntarily assessed against the MSC standard.
Both large industrial and small fisheries are found among the more than 300 MSC-certified fisheries worldwide. They have all been independently assessed according to the stringent MSC criteria for sustainable fisheries. In addition, they are regularly reviewed through independent reviews.
Which fishing methods can be certified according to the MSC Fisheries standard?
A variety of equipment and methods are used in commercial fishing. Each type of equipment has some impact on the marine environment. However, almost all types of equipment can be used responsibly and sustainably, except for explosives and toxins. An independent third party assesses the impact of fishing on habitats and fish populations for the MSC. Read more about the most common types of equipment used by MSC-certified fisheries
Does the MSC Fisheries Standard include other aspects of animal welfare?
Animal welfare is central when talking about food from animal sources. The blue MSC label is assigned to wild fishing. Fish from responsible farming (also known as aquaculture), is labelled with the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) label from the MSC’s sister organisation. This certification includes various requirements for animal welfare.
Does the MSC Fisheries Standard take social factors into account?
The MSC recognises the importance of taking social problems into account when assessing sustainability, as well as the widespread concern for occupational health and safety in the global fisheries industry and seafood supply chain.
In 2016, the MSC board announced the introduction of a risk-based approach to reducing the presence of forced and child labour in MSC-certified supply chains. The MSC collaborates with NGOs, industry leaders and social standards to identify requirements that are reliable and also practical to implement. This has resulted in an updated requirement in which all of the fisheries and value chain players in the MSC programme are obliged to disclose details of the measures they have in place to reduce forced or child labour. Failure to do so will lead to suspension of their certificate.
What are the conditions for certification?
A fishery with an MSC certification is sustainable. But nothing is perfect, not even sustainable fishing. There are often some individual performance indicators where fishing can and should be improved. However, if a fishery has a generally high level of sustainability and meets the minimum requirements in all areas, it can be certified with a disclaimer. These are time-bound improvement requirements the fishery must meet. This way, the already certified fishery must also continue to improve.
An independent third-party auditor makes annual reviews to ensure that fisheries meet the requirements in the areas that need improvement. If these requirements are not met, the certificate could be suspended. Thus, the MSC not only has stringent requirements for being certified, but also for remaining certified.
How are MSC-certified fisheries reviewed to ensure they continue to meet the standard?
An MSC certificate for a fishery is valid for five years at a time. However, annual reviews are made to ensure that the fishery is still meeting the requirements of the MSC and continues to improve. If the fishery doesn’t fulfil the conditions or no longer meets the MSC requirements, the certificate may be suspended or withdrawn. Depending on the risk, the auditor may also increase the inspection frequency, order observers to travel with the fishing boats or trawlers or take other appropriate measures. After five years, fishing must be fully re-evaluated/re-certified.
Should a fishery’s MSC certificate be suspended, their products can no longer be sold with the blue MSC label.
How are companies in the value chain reviewed to ensure they continue to meet the standard?
The MSC certificate for the companies in the value chain is valid for three years at a time. Annual reviews ensure that the requirements for the Chain of Custody Standard are met. For example, audits are carried out to ensure that the purchased amount of MSC-certified seafood corresponds to the sold amount. These reviews could be unannounced.
If a company does not meet the requirements, the certificate could be suspended or withdrawn and the company may not sell their products with the MSC label anymore.
How does the MSC ensure that the review of a fishery is objective?
It is critical that everyone, from fishermen to fishmongers, and from scientists to consumers, can trust the blue MSC label and have confidence in the applicable requirements. For an objective and independent certification process, MSC always uses a third-party assessment. The MSC specifies the criteria for the certification but the assessment is carried out by others. The MSC’s main task is to manage and develop MSC standards. This means that the MSC does not assess fisheries and value chain actors themselves, nor do they issue any certificates. This task is entrusted to independent auditors who, after consultation with experts and representatives of NGOs, research institutes and fishery authorities, determine whether the MSC standards are met. In this way, they ensure that the MSC certification is trustworthy and complies with ISEAL (International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling) and FAO guidelines for standard certifications.
How do fisheries benefit from MSC certification?
MSC certification can benefit fisheries in many ways: some say they have received a higher price for their marine catch due to MSC certification. Others have benefited by retaining long-term customers, developing new markets and securing jobs. For instance, in South Africa the certification of hake fisheries has indirectly contributed to securing around 12,000 jobs in the fisheries and dependent industries. Improved reputation or increased confirmation of sustainable work methods by independent third parties may also be reasons to seek MSC certification.
How does the ocean benefit from the MSC?
MSC-certified fishing contributes to preserving marine habitats and fish stocks for future generations by ensuring sustainable fish stocks, less bycatch, more protected areas, stricter assessments and more detailed research. The MSC produces reports regularly and the latest one shows that MSC-certified fisheries have made over 1,200 improvements since the organisation was established in 1997.
Are MSC-certified products of a higher quality?
The MSC standard is an environmental standard, not a quality standard. The MSC’s goal is to ensure fish stocks for future generations and to preserve marine habitats. Seafood producers themselves are responsible for the quality and safety of their products.
Can farmed fish also have the MSC label?
The MSC label is only for wild fish. Products from sustainable farming are labelled with the ASC label.
How do I really know that my fish comes from a certified fishery?
The MSC’s Chain of Custody Standard confirms the entire value chain. Every company in the chain must have a valid MSC Chain of Custody certificate in order to label their products with the MSC label. Both independent assessments and regular DNA tests confirm that the products have been through an unbroken chain in which certified seafood is identifiable, segregated, and traceable through the entire supply chain until it reaches the consumer.
How can I trust the MSC label?
Today, consumers are constantly exposed to enormous amounts of information and it is challenging to know which sources to trust – this is exactly why the MSC label came about. With just a quick glance at the packaging, the consumer can be confident that they are buying a product of sustainable fishing.
To assess the credibility of a certificate, three organisations offer special assistance in the tangled web of labels: the FAO, the global membership association for credible sustainability standards (ISEAL), and the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI). All three have defined, stringent guidelines for credible certification programmes.
In the fisheries industry, the MSC is the only certification programme that fully meets the stringent requirements of both the FAO and ISEAL. In addition, it is also assessed against the standards for sustainable seafood certification established by the GSSI. This reinforces the integrity of the MSC label as a credible instrument for identifying wild fish – for both consumers and commercial players.
How is the MSC funded?
As an international non-profit organisation, the MSC is fortunate to benefit from the generous support of donors who share the organisation’s mission and vision. The MSC also receives funds through its partners that use the blue MSC label. The MSC receives no payments for the certification of fisheries or businesses. All revenues that the MSC receives are reinvested in their programmes, e.g. for research and development, support for fisheries in developing countries, or for public education.
How do I know if a species is overfished?
Almost all fish species are found in several different stocks around the world. The different stocks of the same species of fish are spatially separated from each other. For example, in the Northeast Atlantic, 13 different cod stocks have been identified. Some of them are in good condition, but unfortunately, others are not. When discussing overfishing, it is essential to distinguish between “species” and “stock”. Usually it is not a species that is overfished, but a single stock.
The fact is that many stocks are overfished. However, this is counteracted by sustainable fishery planning. The assessment according to the MSC Fisheries Standard always refers to the specific stock being fished. Other stocks of the same species that are not affected by the specific fishing are therefore not included in an MSC assessment as this would be pointless.
Can MSC-certified fish have bycatch?
There is no fishing without any kind of bycatch, as fish species mix with other species. The extent of bycatch is one of the MSC’s criteria. The level of acceptable bycatch varies between different fish species. The MSC is therefore always assessing each fish species individually, both on the level and composition of bycatch as well as on the handling of said bycatch.
As mentioned above, the level of acceptable bycatch varies between fish species. If the bycatch of a fishery is 8%, this is a low level of bycatch compared to the global average. But if this 8% comprises a species considered as endangered in that specific fishing area, 8% can be too much. But it’s also important to assess how this is handled, as a large amount of bycatch can also be acceptable provided it is returned to the ocean alive.
Does the MSC tell fisheries how much they can fish?
Fishing quotas are primarily negotiated at a political level. However, the MSC standard requires that a sustainable fishery use its quota in a responsible and long-term manner. One of the assessment criteria is that the fishing quotas follow the scientific recommendation for the management of a specific stock. If the assessment shows that the stock is overfished, the fishery cannot be certified.