NGO coalition Make Stewardship Count eyeing MSC during new review process

Published on
June 16, 2020

Make Stewardship Count, an international watchdog group, has vowed to observe the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) review of its global fishery certification standard closely, to see what comes of what the group identified as “critical changes needed” to the certification body’s blue eco-label.

MSC released a list of 16 topics it aims to cover in the latest Fisheries Standard Review, including requirements for ghost gear, low trophic species, shark finning, and endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) species. Public engagement for the review begins during the week of 15 June, 2020.

Make Stewardship Count, which is comprised of over 90 NGOs and experts dedicated to driving “urgently needed improvements to the MSC standard and certification process,” has issued a list of what it calls “required improvements” backed by research and analysis conducted by non-government organizations and academics.

The group has urged the MSC to ensure several requirements to better its standard and process, including ensuring the full ecological impacts of a certified fishery are assessed and improved and fisheries are not wasteful of marine lives and resources; ensuring the entirety of the certified fishery methods, gear, and catch are sustainable, and that all “main species” of a catch are managed equally to the target species; ensuring that MSC-certified fisheries do not destroy seafloor biodiversity, and that the MSC standard is consistent with internationally accepted fisheries management standards; ensuring the sustainability claim of MSC-certified fisheries is evidence-based and transparent with the data used for decision-making in assessment and audit of fisheries; ensuring condition-based certification is resolved prior to recertification; ensuring the certification assessment and audit process are impartial; and ensuring the MSC proactively upholds the scientific rigor and goals of the program.

“In the past, many of us have spent considerable time giving expert input to the MSC reviews and have heard the MSC promise to improve its standard, only to find changes were often minimal at best, leaving lots of wiggle-room for high-impact fisheries to continue getting certified,” Ecology Action Center Senior Marine Coordinator Shannon Arnold said in a press release. “Many stakeholders came out of the last Fisheries Standard Review frustrated with decisions that appeared to lack scientific rigor. Because of this, we will be following the review process closely, and speaking out if we feel it has gone off track.”

In a recent paper, Make Stewardship Count said it had concerns about a perceived lack of transparency and clarity in its engagement with stakeholders, according to Cat Dorey, an independent fisheries advisor and co-author of the report.

“Stakeholders need to know their engagement is valued, and how certification decisions are reached. Failure to insure adequate clarity and transparency will only increase an already high level of stakeholder discontent. It is imperative that these workshops do not take place behind closed doors, and all outcomes need to be shared publicly for further consultation,” Dorey said.

The coalition added that “MSC stands to lose significant public confidence as a result of the certification body’s lack of attention to a number of critical issues.”

“According to polling, the bycatch of ETP species, the deliberate encirclement of dolphins and shark-finning, as well as habitat destruction that occur in MSC-certified fisheries are major issues for consumers, who feel the MSC is failing in its promise to be a ‘gold standard’ for sustainable seafood,” it said in a press release.

Requirements regarding shark-finning are up for review by MSC, with Make Stewardship Count calling on the organization to implement a Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) policy as a prerequisite for fisheries entering certification.

“Shark-finning is an issue that rightly causes major public concern,” Iris Ziegler of Sharkproject International said. “Shockingly, fisheries with confirmed cases of finning continue to hold the sustainability certification and the MSC continues to ignore the evidence supporting 'fins naturally attached' as the globally accepted best practice.”

Certain fisheries and fishery certification proposals have caused Make Stewardship Count pause, including the Mexican Pacific tuna fishery, “in which vessels deliberately encircle pods of dolphins thousands of times a year,” the group said, as well as proposed certifications of two eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries. These stand as “further examples of fishery certifications that many experts question and that potentially misrepresent what buyers expect when they see the MSC label,” the coalition said.

“The vast majority of consumers believe that the MSC blue tick label should not be awarded to fisheries that allow the deliberate chasing and encircling of dolphins,” Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant at the Animal Welfare Institute, noted. “In addition, many conservation organisations believe that it is premature to consider certification of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is just beginning to recover from severe depletion and while there are major gaps in management practices that have allowed illegal fishing and trade in the species to continue.”

“The coalition fears that the pace of the MSC review will not keep up with the rapid environmental changes that certified fisheries are confronting,” it said. “Any revisions to the Standard will not be released until 2022 at the earliest, and will not be fully implemented by all certified fisheries until March of 2035, according to the timeline provided by the council.”

Dorey said that while Make Stewardship Count is aware of MSC’s protocols, changes are necessary now to avoid irreversible damage.

"While we appreciate that the MSC has processes to follow, climate change will wait for no one and extinction is irreversible,” Dorey said. “Change must come much faster if we want to see healthy marine environments, and indeed a habitable planet in the future!”

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