Bycatch and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): A review of the efficacy of the MSC certification scheme in tackling the bycatch of non-target species

Crespo JP, Crawford R (2019) Bycatch and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): A review of the efficacy of the MSC certification scheme in tackling the bycatch of non-target species. Birdlife International

Also published as ACAP SBWG9 Inf 28.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a seafood certification scheme and ecolabel that sets and maintains a standard for sustainable fishing based on three principles: 1) sustainable target fish stocks; 2) the environmental impact of fishing; and 3) effective management (Opitz et al., 2016). Twelve percent of global marine wild catch is currently certified under the MSC Fisheries Standard (MSC 2017).
Following the codes of best practice established under the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation and International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling, MSC’s Fisheries Standard has been reviewed and revised several times since it was first developed.
However, the standard does not yet fully ensure that certified fisheries are operating to one of the general principles set out in the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries: the minimisation of non-target catch or ‘bycatch’ (FAO 1995). This issue has been identified by MSC itself (MSC, 2018e), which is in now in the process of reviewing requirements on Endangered, Threatened and Protected species as part of the next Fisheries Standard Review.
This study undertook a review of non-target bycatch (including elasmobranchs, marine mammals, seabirds and sea turtles) in 23 fisheries (or groups of fisheries) which have been certified by the MSC (with the exception of one fishery, which withdrew before completing the process) to assess the effectiveness of the MSC criteria and standard in ensuring that the impacts of certified fisheries on non-target species are minimised, or at least reduced.
To facilitate comparisons, the 23 fisheries were grouped into six case studies: North Atlantic gillnets, North Atlantic longline, tuna purse seine, Southern Hemisphere trawl, North Sea mixed fisheries and Northwest Atlantic trap fisheries.
This review used a ‘red/amber/green’ rating approach to rank the performance of certified fisheries with regard to non-target bycatch species data quality; proposed actions to resolve bycatch issues (under MSC’s system of conditions of certification); effective implementation of these actions; and documentation of the trend in bycatch rates/levels in the fishery. The primary sources of data for this review were public certification reports (PCRs) and annual surveillance reports produced by Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs). When alternative data on bycatch were available (e.g. published scientific papers and government reports), these were used to provide an independent source of verification...
...This study concludes that MSC must strengthen the bycatch elements of the MSC standard at the next full Fisheries Standard Review, to prevent fisheries with unacceptably high impacts from being certified and to ensure that mortality of non-target species in certified fisheries is minimised. To that end, this review makes a series of recommendations for improvements. These are:
Data quality
All of the following data quality recommendations could be brought together in a ‘Data Standard’ for MSC:
I. The standard needs to state explicitly the quality of the data necessary to assess bycatch – particularly the need for independent sources of data (e.g. observers, remote electronic monitoring) rather than the current quantitative/qualitative differentiation of data types which does not account for the independence of data;
II. MSC should identify requirements for minimum observer data collection standards, and recognise the potential for remote electronic monitoring to enhance independent data collection;
III. In addition, MSC should identify standards for bycatch data reporting and analysis (i.e. for extrapolating observed samples of bycatch to the fishery scale). Bycatch data reporting must indicate the scale of ETP bycatch in an MSC certified fishery in a transparent fashion;
IV. No fishery should be certified when there is a lack of independent bycatch data for ETP species for which the risks posed by the fishery are clear...etc