MSC: Credibility attacks 'inaccurate'


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
November 26, 2012

Editor's note: The following is a statement from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in response to a column by Mike Urch, titled "Is the MSC losing credibility?" which ran on

In a Commentary published Monday, November 26, 2012, Mike Urch, citing only anonymous sources, makes a very serious and inaccurate statement about the MSC in saying that “there is now evidence that standards for some fisheries are being allowed to slip in order to swell the MSC’s coffers.”  MSC absolutely disputes and challenges this statement.  Evidence?  Perhaps completely misinformed and disgruntled personal opinion has been expressed privately to Mr. Urch.  His error is in suggesting that is evidence, and drawing and publishing conclusions, without even contacting the MSC or verifying with sources on record.

Not only is there no motivation for the MSC to compromise the standard, there is also no opportunity.

The MSC is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization, governed by a diverse international board of trustees which requires balanced representation from every sector including industry and conservation organizations.  They are joined by two other formal scientific and advisory governance bodies, also with requirements for a diversity of sector representation, expertise and backgrounds.  

The governance of the MSC is structured to guarantee that no special interest group, organization or individual can unfairly influence either the application of the MSC standard during an assessment, or the MSC standard itself.  Participation by fisheries, supply chain companies and others in the MSC program is entirely voluntary.

There are checks and balances throughout the MSC program that underscore the credibility of the program and the rigor with which it is applied by independent, third party, conformity assessment bodies.  These certification bodies are, themselves, accredited by an outside, independent, international organization, Accreditation Services International (ASI), which is wholly separate from the MSC, and monitors performance and investigates any complaint that is filed.  Certifiers receive training on an on-going basis to assure worldwide consistency in the application of the standard.

The MSC requires every assessment be conducted by a team of experts in an open, transparent process that includes scientific peer review, stakeholder engagement and input, and 24/7/365 access by anyone to every report, all of which ensures that all voices are heard, comments are examined and considered, and scores against the standard are justified. Assessment teams are required to verify the validity of any data they use in scoring a fishery.  The MSC is not a pass/fail program and specific scores against the MSC core principles, health of the stock, impact on the marine ecosystem and fishery management, are published for anyone to see. In addition, the MSC program includes a formal objections process that, when an objection on a final recommendation by the independent certifier is filed, is conducted by an outside, independent adjudicator that assures correct application of the process and impartiality in the outcome.  

The record clearly shows that this scientific, rigorous process has resulted in positive improvements in sustainability performance. With specific reference to tuna assessments, the author makes unfounded allegations that impugn the fisheries, the certifiers and the stakeholders who participated in an open, transparent process that anyone can review by going to Maligning tuna fisheries that have undergone rigorous assessment against the MSC standard, and the fishers who work in these fisheries, by using the banner “big boys,” or suggesting they somehow got preferential treatment, is a regrettable choice of words and inaccurate.  Of the nine tuna fisheries that are certified, many are small scale pole and line fishers, while one is a large-scale free-school purse seine fishery  demonstrating the MSC program is open to fisheries of any size who will be independently, fairly and equally assessed against the standard. 

With regard to the utterly false accusations made about the MSC’s motives, even the harshest critics of specific aspects or outcomes of assessments commend the MSC for its honesty, integrity and credibility.

In both a current formal review of the entire fishery standard and as part of ongoing input, a Technical Advisory Board, comprised of independent scientists from around the world, evaluates any proposed update to the MSC Standard and a mandatory consultation period ensures that interested parties can submit input and have a meaningful role in policy development.  Stakeholders from every sector are encouraged to bring forward issues, and to do so openly to the MSC. The MSC Stakeholder Council also plays a leading role in developing policy recommendations. Finally, the MSC Board of Trustees must approve any policy change, adding another layer of oversight into the decision making process.  

The MSC goes to great lengths to maintain independence of assessments, scientific rigor, transparency and equal application of the Standard.  We know the importance to environmental benefits, the seafood companies who use the MSC program to assure sustainable sourcing and the lives and livelihoods of the fishers and their communities in all corners of the globe.    


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