On The Hook launches external review of Marine Stewardship Council

The On The Hook logo with a photo of tuna in the background.

On The Hook announced it is launching an external review of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to offer recommendations on measures the MSC should implement to creating lasting sustainability in the fisheries it certifies.

Launched in August 2017, On The Hook was originally focused on MSC certification of the world’s largest tuna fishery, controlled by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement. Initially, On The Hook criticized the PNA's MSC recertification despite recorded incidents of shark fishing, and the fishery being “compartmentalized” into certified and non-certified fishing methods, including using the same vessels to catch tuna caught with and without the use of fish-aggregating devices.

In June 2021, On The Hook transitioned to focus on urging reform of MSC more broadly, calling on MSC to initiate an independent “root-and-branch” review. The group expressed concern the MSC eco-labeling program was rewarding unsustainable practices and fisheries that failed to deliver on MSC's sustainability assurances.

Now, On The Hook is looking for stakeholders to participate in an online consultation to share their views on MSC’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as possible solutions for improvement.

“In the face of climate and biodiversity crises, it is more important than ever that MSC serves to guide consumers towards genuinely sustainable choices and consequently to incentivize improvements across the fishing industry,” Blue Marine Foundation Executive Director Charles Clover, who is also an On The Hook member, said. “Some MSC-certified fisheries do represent the best in the sector, but others do not. MSC has not kept pace with best practice and has not set the bar for certification high enough. We are increasingly concerned that MSC is greenwashing high-impact industrial fisheries while remaining largely inaccessible to small-scale, developing-world fisheries.”

On The Hook previously called for this type of external review to be done by MSC itself, encouraging the organization to review its standards and its wider business model.

“MSC can play a critical role in protecting our ocean, but only if its certification process is transparent, robust, and credible. In too many recent instances, it has fallen short of that,” Environmental Justice Foundation Founder and CEO Steve Trent, an On The Hook member, said. “We therefore support this participatory third-party review. It offers the most-practical route to comprehensively identify key issues and formulating initial workable and widely-supported solutions. While we had hoped MSC would have initiated such a process themselves, we do not believe this can wait any longer – so we have launched our review today in an effort to drive that process.”

In a response to statementds made by On the Hook, MSC said its current standards and review process already ensures sustainable management and operations. The organization said its internal reviews and stakeholder consultations were robust and allowed for On The Hook to provide input.

In response letters to On The Hook’s call for additional review, MSC maintained that an additional external review of its standard and operations at that scale would be duplicative and unnecessarily complex, which MSC said could delay progress on its standards review. In November 2021, the MSC launched a stakeholder engagement survey and invited public suggestions for improvements.

MSC said it has listened to concerns brought up by On The Hook, and in March 2020 made the decision to no longer certify fisheries that target stock using non-certified fishing practices, or compartmentalization, on certified fishing vessels.

Those steps, according to some On The Hook members, aren’t enough.

“MSC has taken small positive steps, such as banning certifying one part of a fishery while letting boats continue unsustainable practices, and strengthening requirements on shark finning,” University of Exeter Professor of Marine Conservation Callum Roberts, an On The Hook member, said. “However, many of its proposed updates are piecemeal, weak, and lack teeth.”

On the Hook's review will begin with a public online consultation, though participants can request anonymity. This will be followed with a series of roundtable discussions focused on issues raised in the first part of the review. Input from both of those exercises will be collated and summarized in an objective report by MarFishEco Consultants CEO Andrew F. Johnson in order to make immediate and longer-term recommendations for improvement, which will be submitted to the MSC once finalized.

Image courtesy of On The Hook


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