The MSC Environmental Standard for Sustainable Fishing was developed through international consultation with stakeholders between 1997 and 1999. Over the ensuing years, MSC elaborated a detailed interpretation of the standard by developing a default set of Performance Indicators (PIs) and Scoring Guideposts which all fisheries are assessed against. This “Default Assessment Tree" now contained within the Certification Requirements.

The decision to undertake a review of the Fisheries Standard was made by the Board of Trustees in July 2012 and also consistent with the procedures defined in the FAO ecolabelling guidelines and ISEAL Standard Setting Code. The decisions made by the Board of Trustees concerning the scope of the FSR are: The default assessment tree and associated performance requirements for fisheries (principally Annex CB of the MSC Certification Requirement); formerly the Fisheries Assessment Methodology (FAM) will be considered the normative Fisheries Standard and as such will be the subject of the FSR; 2013 FSR:

(1) shall focus on a review of the performance of the Default Assessment Tree, ensuring that the operational standard is able to continue to adequately assess fisheries against today's understanding of ecological sustainability and best practice management;

(2) shall not include elements that are outside the scope of the current Principles (e.g. social issues, carbon footprint, animal welfare, post-harvest usage).

As presented in the Board Statement, the MSC Standard is now specifically defined as the Default Assessment Tree and associated requirements which lay out the performance requirements for MSC certification.

Continue reading if you wish to find out more on the full board statement and further information about the development of the Fisheries Standard. A comprehensive set of Frequently Asked Questions is available for further references.


Evolution of the MSC Fisheries Standard

Development of the Principles and Criteria

The MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing (P&Cs; The Fisheries Standard) were developed through international consultation with stakeholders between 1997 and 1999.

Since then no changes have been made to the P&Cs, although it had been proposed that the P&Cs should be reviewed in 2003. A Principles and Criteria Review Scoping Group was set up during the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) meeting of September, 2002 in response to suggestions from stakeholders.


Introduction of the Default Assessment Tree

On reflection, the TAB decided that a higher priority for the MSC was the development of a fisheries methodology and related guidance documents. This led to the development of the Fisheries Assessment Methodology (FAM), in which the P&Cs were formally translated into an operational set of of Performance Indicators and Scoring Guideposts contained in what is now called the 'Default Assessment Tree'.

The publication of the FAM in 2008 was the first time a Default Assessment Tree, against which all fisheries would henceforth be assessed, was introduced. Prior to the development of the FAM, certifiers used the P&Cs to develop specific assessment trees for each fishery under assessment. Approximately 40 fisheries had been assessed using ‘pre-FAM’ trees, and since 2008, all fisheries have been assessed and certified (or not) using the Default Assessment Tree, with or without appropriate modifications.

One explicit objective in developing the FAM was to not ‘change the bar’ for certification on average from pre-FAM assessments. In other words, assessments using the Default Assessment Tree should not be easier or more difficult on average than previous assessments simply due to the change in assessment tree. Analyses showed that this objective was achieved.


The Scheme Document Review and Certification Requirements

In August of 2011, the MSC undertook the Scheme Document Review Project, which incorporated the FAM and all other documents containing instructions for certification of fisheries and businesses in the supply chain into one document called the MSC Certification Requirements (CR). The fisheries requirements are within Part C of the CR, with the Default Assessment Tree being contained within Annex CB.


The Fisheries Standard today

In July, 2012 the MSC Board of Trustees decided that, henceforth, the Default Assessment Tree and associated performance requirements for fisheries (principally Annex CB of the Certification Requirements) should be considered the Fisheries Standard.


The fate of the P&Cs

Having formed the foundation of the Default Assessment Tree and associated requirements, The P&Cs no longer have a "normative" standing as the MSC Fishery Standard. Instead they should be considered as 'informative' foundational statements. The distinction between normative and informative is important, as normative requirements are what certifiers actually assess or audit fisheries against; informative documents provide guidance and context only.