MSC changes policy after intense criticism

Critics of a Marine Stewardship Council rule that allowed vessels to catch both sustainability-certified and non-certified fish in the same fishing trip won a victory last week, when the MSC board decided to eliminate the practice.

On the Hook, an advocacy group formed in August 2017 to challenge the specific rule just overturned by the MSC, cheered the decision.

The group told the U.K. publication The Grocer that it was “pleased the MSC board has accepted the flaw in its standard and is looking to rectify it.”

Since its creation, the MSC has allowed every fishery to define its target stocks, management areas, fishing gear and vessels, known collectively as its Unit of Assessment (UoA). In early 2017, the MSC initiated a review of its UoA requirements in response to concerns that the current rule allows a vessel to catch fish from the same stock using both certified and uncertified fishing gear or catch methods on a single trip.

Following a consultation with stakeholders and its technical advisory group, the MSC decided on 18 January that certified seafood will only enter MSC certified supply chains if it comes from fishing trips on which all activities on the target stock are certified.

“The MSC welcomes constructive stakeholder engagement and dialogue and I wish to thank the many individuals and organizations who engaged in the consultation and helped deliver this strong outcome in support of sustainability and the MSC program,” MSC Science and Standards Director David Agnew said. “We have run a rigorous, objective and transparent process for developing, and ultimately adopting, these new rules. Third-party scrutiny and stakeholder engagement are central to the MSC’s values and our commitment to respond to the constantly evolving field of fisheries science and management. By honoring this commitment, we can maintain our world-leading standards.”

The new UoA requirements will be released in August 2018 and “will help support further improvements in fisheries and encourage engagement in the program,” according to MSC CEO Rupert Howes.

“The commitment that certified fisheries make to sustainability, and ongoing efforts to improve their performance, is making a real and lasting difference to the health of the world’s fish stocks and marine ecosystems,” Howes said.

Fisheries entering MSC assessment for the first time after February 2019 will need to comply with the new UoA requirements, and fisheries which are already under assessment or certified will have three years from August 2018 to make the transition to the new requirements, according to the MSC. Compliance will be audited by MSC’s third party Conformance Assessment Bodies.

In a statement to The Grocer, On The Hook criticized the three-year grace period, calling it “extremely disappointing.”

“This could have a significant impact on countless turtles, sharks and other protected species hauled up by vessels that proudly carry the MSC logo,” the group said. “On The Hook looks forward to continuing our engagement with the MSC consultation process alongside our supporters from parliament and the NGO, academic and retail communities.”

The MSC’s Agnew defended his organization’s decision on the three-year grace period.

“Fisheries management is complex, and the MSC certification process is demanding. It is therefore vital that fisheries are given the time to understand, adapt and transition to the new requirements, and continue on their sustainability journey,” Agnew said. “MSC’s regional teams will be working with all fisheries engaged in the program to provide guidance on the impacts and support on transitional arrangements where necessary.”


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