Fisheries are certified against a rigorous, scientific methodology by an independent third-party accredited certifier during the MSC Full Assessment process. The MSC sustainable fisheries standard has three overarching principles that every fishery must prove that it meets:
Principle 1: Sustainable Fish Stocks
The fishing activity must be at a level that is sustainable for the fish population. Any certified fishery must operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources.
Principle 2: Minimizing Environmental Impact
Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function, and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.
Principle 3: Effective Management
The fishery must meet all local, national, and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability.
Steps to Certification
The MSC assessment has eight steps to certification:
- Information gathering and initial scoring (Assessment Comment Draft Report [ACDR] is produced)
- Announce Full Assessment
- Stakeholder input (of ACDR)
- Site visit and scoring (comprehensive work)
- Client and peer review (of draft report)
- Further public review of draft report (Public Comment Draft Report)
- Final draft report and determination
- Public certification report and issuance of fishery certificate
How are fisheries scored? Two ways.
Performance indicator scoring
There are 28 performance indicators that sit under the three principles of the MSC Fisheries Standard. A fishery will be assigned a score by an expert scientific team for each performance indicator, where 60 is the minimum acceptable performance, 80 is global best practice and 100 is state of the art performance.
To become certified, a fishery must score at least 60 for each of the 28 performance indicators. If a fishery scores between 60 and 79 for any performance indicator, a fishery client will be required to take appropriate action as a condition of certification. This action needs to improve the performance of a fishery so that it scores 80 or above for that indicator. The timeframe to make these improvements is typically five years or less.
A fishery certificate is valid for five years and annual audits are required to ensure fishery continues to meet the MSC Fishery Standard. A fishery may enter reassessment after five years, seeking recertification.
Chain of Custody Certification
The Marine Stewardship Council maintains a Chain of Custody Standard to ensure that seafood with the blue fish label comes from fisheries that have achieved MSC certification for sustainable fishing. Chain of Custody ensures that certified seafood is accurately labeled, allowing consumers to make an informed choice. It also protects consumers from seafood fraud, which is when products are swapped (often deliberately) for a cheaper species or a fish of less desirable origins. Any company wishing to sell MSC certified products must have an MSC Chain of Custody certification. A company’s certification can be extended to also cover Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified seafood. Additionally, any company wishing to use the MSC trademarks, like the blue fish label, must sign an Ecolabel Licensing Agreement with the MSC. The MSC Chain of Custody standard has five principles that every company must demonstrate that it meets:
Principle 1: Certified products are purchased from certified suppliers
The organization has a process in place to ensure that certified products are purchased from certified suppliers and verified upon receipt.
Principle 2: Certified products are identifiable
Certified products need to be clearly identified at all stages of handling. There must be a process in place to ensure that packaging or other materials with the MSC blue fish label can’t be used for non-certified products.
Principle 3: Certified products are segregated
Certified and non-certified products must always be kept physically separate and not mixed together, unless approved under the non-certified seafood ingredient rules.
Principle 4: Certified products are traceable and volumes are recorded
The organization shall maintain a traceability system and records that allow certified products to be traced at all stages of handling - from its sales invoice to a certified source and vice versa.
Principle 5: The organization has a management system that addresses requirements of the standard
The organization shall maintain a management system that complies with all requirements of the standard, is able to manage changes, and properly handle any non-conforming products.
MSC operates a third-party auditing program. All fisheries and supply chain businesses must contact an independent auditor to have their organization assessed against the MSC Standards. For a current list of companies accredited to certify against the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council, please visit Accreditation Services International.