msc certified fish

As part of the consultation, 77% of respondents reported that the MSC’s use of the term ‘sustainable’ was not appropriate or in line with market expectations

An online consultation by campaign group On the Hook has revealed stakeholders remain concerned about the Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabelling scheme.

As part of the consultation, 77% of respondents reported that the MSC’s use of the term “sustainable” was not appropriate or in line with market expectations.

In addition, another 57% said the MSC was not an effective indicator of sustainable fishing, with 49% believing the NGO’s reviews of its standards and other key requirements were not responsive nor frequent enough to keep pace with emerging threats and evolving best practice.

The campaign group’s survey was open from April to July 2022 and received 69 responses from government, academic, industry, retail, NGO and consumer stakeholders across 14 countries.

“In order to maintain credibility, and to serve its purpose in tackling an urgent and escalating crisis, the MSC needs to undertake fundamental root-and-branch reform now, not simply make tweaks to its standard,” said Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation and On the Hook member.

“We urge MSC to take note of the concerns demonstrated by this consultation and our following roundtables, and to heed the findings of our upcoming report,” said Roberts.

Concerns were also raised around the certification of fisheries, with 75% of respondents saying there were specific instances in which a fishery was certified that should not have been.

MSC board approves new Fisheries Standard

Furthermore, 40% of respondents felt the MSC had lowered its standards for certification as it had grown in size.

On the Hook’s findings mark the latest blow in a five-year battle with the MSC over perceived weaknesses in its ecolabelling scheme.

It comes as the MSC approved an updated version of its fisheries standard earlier this year following a four-year review involving 1,000 stakeholders and scientific research. The update was hailed as a “major achievement” by the board, with the new standard to be published later this month.

A spokeswoman for the MSC said: “On the Hook says it has had responses from 69 people across 14 countries for its survey; we do not believe these findings are representative of the full range of stakeholder views. By comparison, an international survey of more than 1,000 of MSC’s stakeholders, conducted in late 2021, found that 79% of stakeholders were likely to speak favourably of the MSC.”

Following the conclusion of its consultation, On the Hook will now run a series of roundtable sessions in which groups of stakeholders will discuss key issues identified, as well as possible solutions.

The campaign group’s external review will then culminate in an “objective report”, collating feedback generated through both the initial consultation exercise and subsequent roundtable sessions. This will make both immediate and longer-term recommendations for the MSC to implement. 

“The reality of working in a multi-stakeholder environment is that not everyone will agree with all aspects of MSC’s programme,” the MSC spokeswoman added.

“However, we are confident that, following this extensive, careful and comprehensive review, MSC certified fisheries will continue to be recognised as leaders in global seafood sustainability.”