Marine Stewardship Council seeks to strengthen certification requirements

Published on
September 13, 2017

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has strengthened the way in which independent peer reviews for MSC assessments are carried out by setting up a peer review college, from which all reviewers must be sourced. 

The college was set up as a pilot in 2016, following an independent review of the MSC’s processes, and consultation with stakeholders. It was formalized on 1 September, 2017. The aim of the new body is to strengthen the review process, and give confidence to the MSC, fisheries and certifiers, of the credibility and independence of peer reviewers involved in MSC assessments.

Fifty marine science and fisheries management experts are currently enrolled in the college, which is administered by the MSC under the direction of its peer review oversight committee.  

Dan Hoggarth, Head of Standards Governance for MSC, explained that the peer review college would provide a centralized means of tracking and improving the performance of peer reviewers, and provide transparency that all were independent and academically qualified.

“Peer review of an independent certifier’s initial assessment of a fishery is an important part of the MSC assessment process, ensuring that decisions are based on evidence, and that all information is considered in an impartial and accurate way,” he said.

Two members of the college are chosen to peer review each assessment, based on their knowledge of the type, location, and issues associated with each fishery. The selection process is guided by two third-party scientists engaged by the college.

In addition to having at least five years’ experience in a relevant area of fisheries or marine conservation management or research, all reviewers have undertaken training on the MSC Fisheries Standard. They are also required to declare potential conflicts of interest related to review assessments.

“The results of the pilot were very encouraging and both certifiers and fisheries have seen the benefit of a thorough review of assessments by independent experts at an early stage,” said Keith Sainsbury, one of the peer review college’s third-party scientists. “Reviewers comments add additional scrutiny and clarification to assessors’ reports, and certifiers have responded well to their feedback.”

The MSC is also strengthening and improving its chain-of-custody standard and fishery certification requirements, and is currently seeking stakeholder comment on the changes. Input to these consultations will inform revisions to the MSC Fishery Certification Requirements and Chain of Custody Standard scheduled for release in late 2018. 

The MSC currently certifies more than 300 fisheries in 35 countries to its fishery standard. These represent a combined annual production of almost 10 million metric tons, which is close to 12 percent of the annual global marine catch. 

According to MSC Science and Standards Director David Agnew, anyone with an interest in ensuring that the MSC’s requirements continue to reflect international best practice in fisheries certification and seafood traceability can have their views heard by the organization.

“The MSC works tirelessly to understand the complex set of often differing views among our stakeholders and ensure they are reflected in our standards and procedures. These consultations offer the opportunity for everyone to inform how the MSC program evolves and continues to reflect international best practice,” he said. “We welcome input from all stakeholders.”

The latest consultations, all released on 1 September, 2017, include an opportunity to comment on the unit of assessment used to define MSC certified fisheries. This consultation is in response to stakeholder concerns over the allowance for fishing vessels to catch both certified and uncertified products in a single fishing trip.  

Another important consultation is on the requirements for onboard traceability, which seeks to boost confidence amongst seafood buyers and consumers of the robustness of the chain of custody process. 

Other consultations include harmonization requirements, which set out how independent assessors should consider scores of overlapping certified fisheries; fishery suspension processes, which details steps taken by assessment bodies to suspend a fishery’s MSC certificate; streamlining the MSC fisheries assessment process, which aims to deliver efficiencies and improvements in opportunities for stakeholder engagement and reduce complexity in the assessment process; and fisheries process improvements, which covers all fisheries certification requirements.

Auditor personnel competencies aims to improve the required qualifications and experience of assessment team members; ISO 19011 training requirements considers training requirements for auditors, and the chain of custody program review includes improvements to the chain of custody standards.

Finally, views are sought on a new standard to assure traceability for ingredients associated with the ASC Feed Standard. 

All consultations run until the end of September 2017 and can be accessed via improvements.msc.org. 

MSC Senior Public Relations Manager Jackie Marks said both the peer review college and the stakeholder consultations were initiated by MSC as part of an ongoing effort to improve the organization’s procedures.

“Both are part of our usual processes, and were not precipitated in response to any criticism,” Marks said in an email to SeafoodSource.

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