Eyes on the MSC Review – Big Blue Future or Big Blue Failure?

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is reviewing its seafood certification standard and Make Stewardship Count is watching both the process and results closely. Is the process open, inclusive and clear to everyone? Will the Fisheries Standard Review (FSR) make the critical changes needed to ensure all certified fisheries are applying global best practices?

Transparency of Engagement and Decision Making
Request for Transparency
Critical changes needed to improve the MSC Standard
Critical Changes

Transparency of Engagement and Decision Making

2020-11-13T12:36:20+00:00November 13th, 2020|

Transparency of Stakeholder Engagement & Decision Making in the Marine Stewardship Council

It’s crucial that MSC adopts best practices for transparent consultation during this review. Stakeholders must understand who is invited to engage and why, how best to engage, how input is used, and how and why decisions are made at each step of the way. We are rating MSC against our best practice recommendations that draw from the leading literature on consultation as well as our members’ many years of experience engaging with the MSC programme.

November 2020

This rating covers the 2020 public consultation phase on the FSR, which included a public online kick-off conference, several consultation workshops on selected topics for which stakeholders could register, and public online surveys.

Meets Expectations Improving Below Expectations NOTE: Click on each “finger icon” for more information.
  • Outline each process as early as possible with clear timelines and show how related processes are linked
    • It is unclear how expert workshops in 2019 linked into 2020 workshops.
    • Workshops in 2020 were postponed multiple times. While originally planned for May, they did not happen until mid to late June.
    • Outcomes for certain workshops were anticipated to be made public by the end of August, but were not published until the end of October.
    • The entire Fisheries Standard Review (FSR) has now been prolonged by another 6 months – there is still a lack of clarity on how this will impact the next stages of the process.
  • Demonstrate a strategy of stakeholder selection
    • The decision making processes deciding who could participate in workshops were unclear.
    • Registration of interest was open to all and initially stakeholders were told that only some would be selected to actively participate in workshops; some participants were later told they could attend as speakers, others only as observers, still others heard nothing.
    • Ultimately all who registered were able to attend and contribute (possibly leading to the “record numbers” of participants).
  • Give stakeholders multiple entry points for engagement
    • Some workshops were available in multiple time slots, but not all, and it was unclear why.
    • Written submissions were possible for both workshop participants and those unable to attend, as well, some topics were also available as online surveys allowing multiple options for engagement.
  • Allow all stakeholders to assist with designing the process
    • Stakeholders were not involved in the final selection and prioritisation of topics for workshops.
    • Lack of involvement of stakeholders in workshop design and agenda-setting meant there were inconsistencies and some workshops were not fit for purpose, e.g. Endangered, Threatened, Protected (ETP) species and ghost gear were combined into one workshop leaving insufficient time to engage in the depth needed, while shark finning had a full workshop and was also discussed as a subtopic of other workshops.
  • Be clear about the goals of the process from the start
    • The overarching topics for review in this phase were provided, and it was clear that this phase would be to explore what was not working in these areas and review options for changes or additions to the standard.
    • The agendas and details for review within each topic were only made available to participants about a week prior to each workshop.
    • In many cases the areas for review and the options presented for changes and/or additions to the standard were very narrow. It is unclear if/how stakeholder suggestions for alternatives will be taken into account in next phases.
  • Demonstrate the current stage of the process of consultation, and the decision that led to it
    • It was clear that this was the first public consultation phase of the FSR, informed by a research phase that included consultant reports and expert workshops in 2019.
    • However, there was a lack of continuity and connection between the expert workshops in 2019 and public consultation workshops in 2020, with only some key points brought into 2020 workshop background documents, and it was difficult to tell how proposals presented in expert workshops informed 2020 workshop proposals.
    • It is unclear how input provided to date will be used by the TAB in their proposal to the Board on next steps
  • Allow full access to all the information provided during the process
    • In addition to workshop background information, some additional research reports or summaries were available on specific topics e.g. a draft consultant report MSC commissioned on the status of ‘fins naturally attached’ regulations for sharks.
    • It is unclear if all commissioned research reports have been made public.
    • Only a very brief overview of the full report from the 2019 ETP workshop was provided to the ETP/Ghost Gear 2020 workshop.
    • Workshop reports are now available and include workshop background information, participant data for workshops and written submissions, and full workshop transcripts.
  • Allow stakeholders to share information and address gaps by being open about who will be, or was, involved in the process
    • Many stakeholders who had registered for the workshops did not know whether they had been admitted or not, until a few days before the event and participant lists were not provided prior to this making it difficult to connect and share information.
    • Participant data were eventually provided with the report summaries, although not consistently (workshops attendees unnamed, those making written submissions named).
    • Lack of clarity remains on who will be involved in discussions before the next phase of consultation i.e. bilateral meetings with industry or other stakeholders, or participation by invited experts in Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council meetings.
  • Share the decision-making framework and rationale for each step of the process:
    • Who is involved in decision-making, at which level, and who leads the process?
    • What criteria are used to make decisions and how are they ranked?
    • What decision rules are used to finalize the decision?

    • The decision making process at the level of detail included in this indicator for next steps remains unclear.
    • Information is public indicating the Board will decide, in December 2020, which proposals will go forward to the next public consultation in spring 2021, however, is unclear who will influence these proposals such as through targeted meetings with industry groups or specific organizations in addition to Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council meetings prior to the Board meeting.
    • This is of particular concern as this time period in the last Standard review was flagged by many stakeholders as highly influential to outcomes, but very opaque.
  • Regularly review the stakeholder engagement process
    • There is no publicly available report on any assessment that may have been made of the previous FSR process or recommendations for improvements that may stem from this.
    • MSC conducted online surveys for feedback on how each 2020 workshop was run, and have taken the initiative to reach out to some stakeholders for additional input.

Critical changes needed to improve the MSC Standard

2020-11-13T12:18:37+00:00November 13th, 2020|

Critical requirements necessary to improve marine stewardship council principle 2

The MSC Standard should reflect global best practices in fisheries management and drive positive change on the water. We are watching to see how the current Fisheries Standard Review (FSR) addresses the critical flaws the Make Stewardship Count coalition of experts has identified in the current standard. To reduce the ecological impacts of certified fisheries, the revised Standard must:

November 2020

This rating covers the 2020 public consultation phase on the FSR, which included a public online kick-off conference, several consultation workshops on selected topics for which stakeholders could register, and public online surveys.

Meets Expectations Improving Below Expectations NOTE: Click on each “finger icon” for more information.
  • Cumulative impact assessment required for all species caught by ALL fisheries (MSC and non MSC) in the same area
    • MSC workshop leaders indicated that how cumulative impacts are defined and how current triggers are implemented in assessments is part of their Review considerations connected to both ‘type and quality of evidence’ as well the ‘ETP species’ review topics.
    • Option to discuss cumulative impacts was also included in an online survey.
    • The review of cumulative impacts scoring does not appear to include consideration of non-MSC fisheries.
  • Application of precautionary principle and best science is used to 1) designate a species as ‘ETP’ and 2) assess fishery impacts on those species
    • How species are designated ETP in the Standard is a focus topic.
    • However, it is not clear if improvement of Standard scoring areas that focus on the impact of fisheries on ETP species will even be discussed.
  • ETP species should be inclusive of, but not limited to, all IUCN Red List ‘threatened’ categories
    • Proposals provided during the workshop had crucial flaws: endangered and threatened species are solely defined on IUCN listing, ignoring data deficient species or national and regional listings.
  • Prerequisite for certification: bycatch must not exceed a risk based maximum percentage of catch
    • Not included in the FSR terms of reference or in related workshops.
  • Progressive reduction of bycatch during certification
    • Conditions that define risk based annual bycatch reduction rates
    • Verification of achieved bycatch reduction during surveillance audits

    • Risk based assessment options were discussed in both the evidence and information and the ETP species topic workshops.
    • Reduction of bycatch and verification of reduction was raised by participants, particularly in relation to the idea of risk based assessments tools and condition setting, but it is not yet clear if these issues will be further taken up in the FSR next steps.
  • Prerequisite for certification: no fishing methods that include the intentional encirclement of marine mammals or ETP species
    • The issue was raised as a major concern by participants in the workshops but did not seem to get any traction with the MSC for inclusion going forward.
  • Prerequisite for certification: All fisheries interacting with sharks (elasmobranchs) must have a ‘fins naturally attached’ (FNA) policy implemented and enforced
    • Multiple workshops and online survey options are focused on Standard scoring related to shark finning and MSC’s zero tolerance policy, however it is unclear if MSC is open to adopting ‘fins naturally attached’ as a minimum policy requirement for fisheries entering certification.
    • During the workshops clear support was voiced from NGOs, CABs, and retailers for a strict ‘fins naturally attached’ (FNA) requirement for landing sharks at SG60 in compliance with MSC’s zero tolerance policy, as per current global best practice.
  • All fishing practices used by the fishery must be assessed during certification
    • Upon recertification all remaining fishing techniques have improved to the Standard

    • The revised FCP (2019) ensured that certified fisheries will no longer be able to target a stock using both certified and non-certified fishing practices with the same gear (known as compartmentalisation).
  • All ‘main’ species of the catch must meet the same criteria as target species (P1) even if discarded
    • Not included in the FSR Terms of Reference for target or other main species.
    • Harvest control rules for Principle 1 are under review during the FSR, but there was no proposal during the workshop for this to be extended to other main species.
  • Overfishing (F>Fmsy) is prohibited for all ‘main’ species of the catch
    • Not included in the FSR Terms of Reference for target or other main species.
    • Harvest control rules for Principle 1 are under review during the FSR, but there was no proposal during the workshop for this to be extended to other main species.
  • Prerequisite to Certification: No bottom fisheries in known or likely VME areas
    • While not strictly defined this way, workshop scope and discussions on habitat performance indicators focused on two scoring issues, 1. identification of VMEs and potential VMEs, and 2. defining when ‘move on’ rules should be applied.
  • Benthic impacts must be reversible in less than 10 years
    • Prerequisite to certification: 50% of benthic habitat type in a region closed to all fishing

    • Workshop scope and discussions did not address these issues – the current definition for ‘irreversible damage’ as ‘recover in 20 years or more’ remains and protection or closure thresholds are not being considered.
  • Prerequisite for certification: risk based qualitative and quantitative data requirements exist for bycatch reporting
    • Consistent data requirement for comparable fisheries

    • Risk based assessment options were discussed in both the evidence and information and the ETP species topic workshops, though it is unclear if MSC will pursue such proposals further.
    • Consistency of data requirements is a focal discussion under the type and quality of evidence as well as the best practices for control, monitoring, and surveillance FSR topics.
  • Upon request stakeholders must have access to all data used for scoring of fishery by CABs (including, inter alia, AIS, VMS, EM, observer raw data)
    • Access and availability of data for stakeholders was discussed in workshops covering evidence and information adequacy topics, however it is not yet clear if this issue will be further taken up in the FSR next steps.
  • Peer review should be included in any annual audit where conditions are closed
    • Possibility for stakeholder objection to surveillance audit outcomes

    • Conditions were addressed in the 2019 FCP (Fisheries Certification Process) Review.
    • Peer review is now required, but stakeholder objection is still not possible.
  • No recertification prior to verified fulfilment of all conditions
    • Condition extension was tightened in the 2019 FCP review, however extension of conditions is still allowed in some circumstances.

Make Stewardship Count, other stakeholders, and researchers continue to raise concerns about CAB impartiality and MSC accountability as the Standard holder. Neither of the following topics has been taken up in the Fisheries Standard Review and MSC has ignored these concerns.

  • Ensure impartiality of the assessment, certification and audit processes, CABs must be independently assigned
    • Not addressed during FCP or announced for FSR.
  • MSC must be proactive and intervene in case of urgent and obvious problems
    • No evidence of improvement apparent so far.