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The MSC assessment process: Providing benchmarks for charting progress towards sustainability

16 May 2012

An interview with Dr Oluyemisi Oloruntuyi

Dr Oluyemisi Oloruntuyi is the Programme Manager, Developing World Fisheries, at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Currently some 250 fisheries have embarked on MSC’s certification process. At a global level, about 6% of wild fish catches is certified by the MSC.

Q: What are the main challenges facing fisheries in the developing world that want to undertake MSC certification?

For developing-country fisheries, obtaining MSC certification can be complex for a number of reasons. These include data deficiency, inadequate support from existing institutions to progress towards sustainable fisheries (which often results in poor fisheries governance), and limited knowledge and awareness of the MSC certification scheme and how it works. An element that has been particularly important for helping developing countries to engage in MSC certification for some fisheries has been the development of partnerships in order to improve the capacity of the stakeholders involved in these fisheries and to provide them with the resources needed to help make the improvements in the fisheries required to meet MSC certification standards.

We have had to develop appropriate tools to ensure that, despite these constraints, developing-country fisheries can become MSC certified if they are sustainable.

Q: How does the MCS Developing World Programme address such key constraints as limited availability of fisheries data?

At the MSC, we have developed a risk-based approach for use in the assessment of data-poor fisheries. Our fisheries assessment methodology includes a risk-based framework, which can be used to assess data-deficient fisheries against MSC requirements.

The methodology enables Certifiers to evaluate fisheries in terms of scale and intensity of exploitation, productivity of species, etc. This helps to determine risks concerning the fisheries being assessed, and to measure, on a precautionary basis, the impacts of the fishery and how it scores against specific MSC standards. An important aspect to ensure that such an approach delivers a credible assessment is to have a strong input from the fisheries stakeholders, particularly small-scale users.


Q: An often heard criticism on MSC is that it’s not accessible to small scale fisheries. Does the MSC intend to address this issue through adopting this new approach?

Indeed, the development of our risk-based approach has been triggered by our commitment to provide small-scale and data-deficient fisheries with the possibility of becoming MSC-certified, and this new approach is currently being used to assess several small-scale fisheries in developing countries, as in Si’an Ka’an and Banco Chincorro (Mexico) lobster fishery.

In some other fisheries, such as the Gambia’s sole fishery and Madagascar’s octopus fishery, the MSC pre-assessment is used as the basis for developing a process to address identified issues. As I said, such initiatives often involve developing partnerships to bring about the improvements necessary to enable the fisheries to embark on a full assessment process. In short, the MSC assessment process provides a system of benchmarks for partners who need to be able to chart the progress made towards sustainability in a fishery under consideration.


Q: How are things shaping up as regards the MSC assessment of the Gambia’s sole fishery?

In the last couple of years, the Gambian Artisanal Fisheries Development Agency (GAMFIDA) has worked with the government of the Gambia, WWF and other partners, including the main exporter of sole from the Gambia, with financial support from USAID, to develop a co-management plan for the sole fishery, in order to help achieve MSC certification. This is a fishery whereby small-scale fishermen use bottom-set gill nets from their motorised pirogues.

One issue that was identified during this process was the need for clearer co-management structures, to empower fishermen to be able to participate in the management of their fisheries. Therefore, co-management committees were set up at the level of the landing sites, composed of elected fishermen, as well as a national co-management committee.

The other important issue identified was the lack of scientific data on the state of the resources, although fishermen have significant amounts of local knowledge about this fishery. The MSC assessment process helped to identify research priorities, and to develop the basis for gathering scientific information. For example, fishermen are now filling out log-books and providing catch record data to be used to help stock assessments.

The MSC assessment process has also triggered new management measures, such as the designation of spatio-temporal closures: sole fishing is now stopped for part of the year in a near-shore protected area, allowing the sole to reproduce.


Q: Will these efforts by the fishermen translate into better prices and greater revenues for them?

What is sure is that MSC certification of the sole fishery will open up new markets for them, as some companies, including in Europe, now only buy MSC-certified products. Already, these efforts to achieve MSC certification have been noticed by a German retailer, Kaufland, which has already committed to promote these efforts through a campaign with their customers. This campaign involved making a donation to the Gambian initiative to help establish sanitation facilities at the landing sites in the Gambia, which will help to improve the quality of the fish to be exported. This retailer hopes, if the fishery becomes certified, to offer MSC-certified sole from the Gambia in its retail outlets.

Q: What about the certification of some other small-scale fisheries using selective gears, such as the Mauritania small-scale octopus fishery? Why is it not possible for them to get certified?

Sometimes the issue is that there may be issues with the overall stock. If such stocks are targeted by both large- and small-scale fishing operations, the small-scale fishers on their own may not be able to ensure the sustainability of the fishery. This remains a challenge and requires various parts of the fishery to work together. One thing to make clear is that the MSC standard does not determine the allocation of access rights to users. However, in order to be certified, one of the requirements that has to be met is that the management system must have a mechanism to ensure that the rights of those who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods are respected. 


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