Positive change on the water

The MSC Global Impacts Report 2016

Oceans are essential to life on Earth. They are home to an extraordinary diversity of life, covering more than 70% of the planet's surface. They supply the oxygen we breathe and regulate the climate.

Oceans provide essential protein for around a billion people, while around one in every 10 people on the planet depends on fishing for their livelihood.

So it’s vital that fish stocks and the marine ecosystems that support them are looked after. Seafood leaders understand that this is their responsibility.

From artisanal fishers to large-scale fishing operations, increasing efforts are under way to restore and responsibly exploit fish stocks, improve fisheries management and conserve marine environments.

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MSC & our
partners' impacts

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was established in 1997 to safeguard seafood supplies for the future.

Working with scientists and marine experts, we have developed the world's most recognised standard for sustainable wild-caught seafood.

Well-managed fisheries that ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and keep ecosystems healthy can be certified against this standard, and their products sold with the blue MSC label.

You can find MSC labelled products in stores and on restaurant menus around the world in 100 countries.

You can find MSC labelled products in stores and on restaurant menus around the world in 100 countries.

Sustainable fish stocks

Today, almost 10% of the world’s wild caught fish is MSC certified, a figure that has doubled since 2010.

The 281 fisheries harvesting this catch are targeting fish stocks at a level that allows the population to remain healthy and productive for generations to come.

Map A: Number of certified fisheries in each country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 2010

Map A: Number of certified fisheries in each country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in 2010

Map B: Number of certified fisheries in each country's EEZ in 2015 (EEZs not shown for countries with no certified fisheries)

Map B: Number of certified fisheries in each country's EEZ in 2015 (EEZs not shown for countries with no certified fisheries)

MSC certification means that an independent evaluation has established that the certified fishery and the stock they target is at a globally recognised level of maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

The MSC Global Impacts Report investigates the sustainability of fish stocks in northern Europe over the past 14 years and reveals that stocks that went on to become MSC certified increased the biomass, or abundance of fish, more than uncertified stocks, on average.

In contrast, non-certified stocks in Europe show much greater variability in terms of biomass and fishing pressure, with the average fishing effort remaining too high to ensure productive fish stocks. 

“Our analysis of European fish stocks demonstrates that certified fisheries are improving the health of fish populations and reducing fishing effort, where needed. MSC certified fisheries in Europe now target more abundant fish stocks at a more sustainable rate than they did before MSC certification.”

Dr David Agnew, MSC Science & Standards Director

Minimising environmental impacts

94% of certified fisheries have made at least one improvement to strengthen or further monitor the sustainability of their operations.

Improvements include:

  • Better data collection and monitoring by increasing observer coverage, implementing video surveillance cameras and strengthen reporting using log books
  • Better stock and impact assessments on the vulnerability of bycatch species to inform management decisions.
  • Implementing management procedures such as closing the fishery at a particular time of the year to minimise bycatch or avoid seabird breeding seasons.
  • Modifying fishing gear and operations such as changing the mesh size of nets to allow juvenile fish to escape, and the introduction of exclusion devices.

Traceable seafood supply

Traceable supply chains ensure that the MSC certified fish being caught in fisheries around the world can be tracked all the way from ocean to plate.

The MSC's Chain of Custody program's monitoring activities include DNA testing and product tracebacks ensure that our traceability requirements are working effectively.

Over the past year, our monitoring work has increased in South East Asia, where the program has experienced significant growth.

“A traceable supply chain, from the consumer back to sustainable fisheries, is fundamental to consumers' trust and confidence in the seafood they’re buying.”

Alfred Schumm, WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative leader


Of the 120 million people employed in the fisheries sector, 90% work in small-scale fisheries, and 97% live in developing countries.

Small-scale and developing world fisheries may lack the resources, data and governance they need to achieve MSC certification.

But we're committed to ensuring that these fisheries have fair and equal access. We have developed a series of tools and initiatives to help them take their first step on the road to environmental sustainability.

The artisanal Kenyan rock lobster fishery underwent a pre-assessment using the MSC accessibility tools in 2010. The tools that help them prioritize actions include:

  • developing a fishery management plan
  • researching the biology of lobster species
  • assessing stock health
  • controlling minimum size restriction per catch
  • regulating gear used
  • community run protected areas.

“MSC certification is a long term goal, but already the MSC framework is helping our FIP to deliver real improvements in the fishery. It’s helped us identify issues and information gaps, create a clear action plan, track performance and report on our progress.”

Elizabeth Mueni, Principal Fisheries Officer, State Department of Fisheries, Kenya

Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement lies at the heart of the MSC’s assessment process.

Stakeholder support strengthens both the result obtained in the fishery and for the overall MSC certification program.

Between 2012 and 2015, 723 stakeholders provided comments on MSC fishery assessments.

Their feedback ensures the assessment of each fishery is well-informed and comprehensive, and that the outcome of every assessment is consistent with the MSC Standard.

As a result of stakeholder comments:

  • 24 fishery assessment scores (12.5%) were changed
  • In total, 17 fisheries were asked to make one or more improvements


MSC certified fisheries have made numerous improvements to their operations over recent years.

They have shown their commitment to sustainability by dedicating significant time, energy and resources to meeting the MSC Standard.

The progress that certified fisheries have made, and continue to make, is hugely encouraging; however, 90% of global wild seafood catch is not yet part of the MSC program.

Another key challenge is to overcome the barriers to certification for fisheries in the developing world and small-scale fisheries, and to build their capacity for effective and sustainable fisheries management.

This will help improve food security and resilience for communities, while also supporting their economic development by enabling them to access new markets for sustainable seafood.

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