The Marine Stewardship Council has responded to pressure from environmental NGOs by opening consultations to tighten its rules on fishery compartmentalisation and shark finning.
The consultations follow the rejection of previous reforms to the MSC unit of assessment last August. These included plans to toughen rules around compartmentalisation – where fisheries can be certified as sustainable for portions of their catch, even if crews also catch non-certified fish using unsustainable practices.
While it said most food certification schemes allowed for compartmentalisation under the proviso demand for sustainable products would eventually support an increase in certified production, the MSC noted the sustainability “concerns” raised by stakeholders.
In practice, its new compartmentalisation proposals meant a fishery using multiple fishing practices could no longer seek certification for one specific component of its catch, it said. The MSC will also consult on the timelines, likely three or five years, for the proposals.
“This proposal follows extensive research and consultation,” said MSC fisheries standard director Rohan Currey.
“It would require all fishing practices using the same gear type on the same stock to be MSC certified, removing the complexities associated with compartmentalisation by fishing practice at sea. Already certified fisheries would be given time to adapt to any new requirements.”
The MSC is also proposing new requirements on shark finning. There had been inconsistencies in how current rules banning the practice were previously applied, it admitted.
It is planning to introduce a new requirement that would deem fishing businesses successfully prosecuted for incidences of shark finning within the past two years ‘out of scope’ for MSC certification. They would therefore not be eligible to sell their catch as MSC certified.
This requirement would be introduced in February 2020 and would have a six-month implementation timeframe.
The reforms were given a cautious welcome by campaign group On the Hook, which, alongside the Make Stewardship Count coalition of international NGOs, reiterated calls for an independent review of the MSC last week.
A spokeswoman for On the Hook said it was “encouraged” to see the MSC’s proposal to tackle compartmentalisation, adding it looked forward “to gaining further clarity on the MSC’s proposed timeframe for implementation of this urgent and vital measure”.
However, it warned the measures announced in the shark finning consultation remained “inadequate and postpone critically needed changes by years”.
The MSC standard already banned shark finning, she added. “Therefore every fishery should be fully scrutinised to make sure that it is not occurring with certificates suspended if it is.”
Additionally, On the Hook had “repeatedly called for the MSC to provide adequate evidence of sanctions being taken against vessels found to have engaged in finning”, she said. But to date, none had been provided. “We continue to urge them to do so as soon as possible.”