Array of NGOs claim proposed MSC standards would “tarnish” its reputation

Published on
June 20, 2022
The logos of the NGOs requesting action from the Marine Stewardship Council

A cadre of international NGOs focused on environmental conservation have written a letter to the Marine Stewardship Council claiming its proposed new standards – the product of MSC's fisheries standard review begun in 2018 – would “tarnish” its reputation.

The letter was sent by the WWF, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Birdlife Marine Programme, The Nature Conservancy, Ecology Action Centre, Earthworm Foundation, IPNLF, and the Sharkproject. According to the NGOs, the latest fisheries standard proposed by the MSC has “significant weaknesses.”

The NGOs have a number of concerns, including the amount of time the new standard gives to fisheries to reach harvest strategies, potential loopholes in the standard that could threaten seabirds, and the amount of power given to conformity assessment bodies (CABs) to make executive decisions on whether a fishery meets standards.

“We welcome some aspects of the MSC’s proposed new standard, such as the long overdue recognition that fisheries harassing or chasing marine mammals should absolutely not be certified as ‘sustainable,’” WWF Deputy Practice Leader and Innovation Lead Gilly Llewellyn said in a release. “However, overall, the MSC has missed the mark with this new standard and failed to grasp the opportunity to drive real progress toward ocean conservation.”

The NGOs claim that the current draft guidance has too many economical opt-outs that would “ultimately undermine” the MSC’s objectives, and that it also has “lax requirements” that, according to the letter, delay improvements to fisheries management. The letter said some tuna fisheries still haven’t closed out relevant conditions for certification despite some of those conditions being set as long ago as 2007. The new MSC standard could only exacerbate existing problems with the MSC standard,  according to the letter.

“Science-based harvest strategies and harvest control rules are fundamental components in guaranteeing sustainable fisheries for the long-term,” The Pew Charitable Trusts International Fisheries Manager Jamie Gibbon said. “While the proposed changes strengthen the harvest strategies requirements in some places, they would also double the allowed timelines for their implementation, demonstrating a continued unwillingness by the MSC to hold certified fisheries to reasonable timelines when pursuing harvest strategies.”

The NGOs also said the MSC’s currently proposed “fins naturally attached” requirement for shark catches will end up being “undermined by ambiguity. The requirement would only allow fisheries that retain sharks to be certified if they have a mandatory requirement all sharks are landed with fins attached, with an added requirement that fins cannot be removed at sea.

“We need all hands on deck to stop a vast wave of sharks and rays from going extinct on our watch and the MSC needs to start leading the charge toward global best practice,” Sharkproject International Project Leader Iris Ziegler said.  “Zero tolerance for shark finning requires a watertight standard and quantitative evidence for compliance. There is too much at stake to continue trusting that fisheries will comply voluntarily.” 

The letter also “strongly urges” the MSC to continue maintain coverage requirements for independent observation in its certified fisheries, and added that adopting a risk-based approach would allow the MSC to avoid overburdening low-risk fisheries and ensure adequate monitoring with high-risk fisheries.

MSC's fisheries standard review has involved the “most-extensive consultation ever undertaken” by the organization, according to MSC, including input from over 1,000 stakeholders and the completion of 16 in-depth projects to review the new standard. The MSC also said that the NGOs that wrote the statement were a part of the process.

"We recognise the importance of this review of MSC Fisheries Standard to many working in ocean conservation around the world. Several of the organisations quoted – including WWF, Birdlife International and the Pew Charitable Trusts - have been involved in this review from the beginning, and their inputs have shaped the proposals that will go to the MSC’s Board," MSC said.  "We welcome the fact that some quoted recognise the progress that this review has achieved and the opportunity it represents. However, to expect this review to meet every demand of stakeholders – some of whom have different and conflicting priorities – is not realistic."

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