Make Stewardship Count Coalition raises concerns about new MSC standard

Blacktip sharks being weighed.

The Make Stewardship Count Coalition is raising concerns that the latest draft of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards, being released on 1 February, 2022, will not improve the requirements for achieving its sustainable seafood certification.

The Make Stewardship Count Coalition consists of more than 90 NGOs, experts, organizations, and researchers with the collective aim of pushing for improvements to the MSC standard and certification. The coalition has released a set of scorecards that evaluated the multiyear process of the MSC fisheries standard review, which included a list of critical flaws in the seafood certification program. According to the scorecards, though MSC increased engagement opportunities during the review, the final stage of consultations lacks transparency.

“If the MSC fails to hold fisheries to a higher level of sustainability expectations, the label will no longer act as an incentive for change,” Ecology Action Centre Senior Marine Program Coordinator Shannon Arnold said in a press release. “We worry that without some significant changes in the new draft standard, at best, MSC will just continue to reward status quo and, at worst, become a block for other efforts around the world seeking to raise the bar on fisheries management and practice on the water.” 

The coalition said the new standard does not do enough to eliminate shark-finning or the endangerment of vulnerable and protected species. And loopholes in the language used in the standard may lead to continued certification of fisheries regardless of high bycatch, insufficient data, and lack of improvement, Animal Welfare Institute Marine Wildlife Consultant Kate O’Connell said.

“We remain deeply concerned that the review will not adequately address the cumulative impacts of both MSC and non-MSC fisheries on vulnerable species, nor will it mandate a progressive reduction in bycatch of endangered, threatened, and protected marine wildlife,” O’Connell said.

The coalition first raised concerns over the MSC’s willingness to make changes that better encourage sustainable practices in 2020. The coalition said MSC’s unwillingness to address environmental concerns may lead to decreased confidence in its eco-label.

“There’s still time to get this right, but the MSC needs to act now. With the vast amount of input, proposals, consultations, and expertise that have been offered from groups around the world, the MSC has everything they need to make the new standard one that will promote abundant, thriving oceans,” Make Stewardship Count Coalition Independent Advisor Cat Dorey said. “We hope they will step up and do what’s needed, and we’ll be watching closely to see that they do.”

The MSC board will make final decisions on the draft standard on 24 January, 2022. The standard will be released for stakeholder consultation on 1 February, 2022 for 60 days, closing 4 April, 2022.

In a response sent Monday, 24 January to SeafoodSource, MSC Head of Public Relations Jo Miller said "the MSC Fisheries Standard is the leading international standard for sustainable fishing and is used to assess if fisheries are well-managed and environmentally sustainable."

" We regularly review our Standard to reflect the evolution and uptake of best practice in fisheries management as well as improve its implementation and address stakeholder concerns," she said. "The current Fisheries Standard Review began in 2018 and has involved the most extensive consultation ever undertaken by the organisation, with the participation of over one thousand stakeholders. The MSC has also conducted our own research, reviewed research carried out by independent scientists, spoken directly with experts, solicited advice from our governance bodies and tested proposed revisions in mock assessments.  

"The results of our research and stakeholder feedback are reflected in a proposed new Standard which was presented to the MSC Board of Trustees on 19 January. The proposal was developed as a result of 16 projects to review key areas of the Standard including requirements related to endangered, threatened and protected species; shark finning; ghost gear; and habitats," Miller said. "The MSC Board has agreed that the Fisheries Standard Review should now progress to a final Public Review stage. Final preparations are now underway to share the proposed new Standard in full on 1 February, giving everyone equal opportunity to review and comment on the proposals across a 60-day period. There will also be an opportunity for anyone interested in finding out more about the changes to attend a public webinar on 15 February. The Board of Trustees will make the final decision on the new Standard in June 2022. Anyone interested in receiving further details on the proposed Standard can sign up to be notified when the Public Review opens."

Photo courtesy of N8Allen/Shutterstock


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