See all articles

MSC clarifies requirements for certification of low trophic level fisheries

The Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) board of trustees and technical advisory board recently released new, more precautionary requirements for the management of low trophic level fisheries that wish to become certified.

Low trophic level species, such as anchovy, krill and sardines, play a critical role in the world’s oceans.

Because of their generally small size and high productivity, and the fact that such species are at the lower end of the food chain, they play a key role in sustaining a wide array of other species and maintaining the wider ecosystem. They are also a vital resource for the global fishing sector: over 30 percent of global wild-capture fishery production is of these small, prolific fish.

The new requirements for certifiers are the result of a two year project that included a twelve month stakeholder consultative process examining global best practice. The MSC also commissioned new research to carry out modeling to evaluate how different levels of harvest in low trophic level fisheries impact those fisheries as well as all of their dependent predators.

The findings of the research, released in the journal Science in June this year, concluded that low trophic level fisheries should be more conservative when setting the levels of allowable harvest than would be typical for higher trophic level species like cod.

The MSC methodology already recognized the critical role of low trophic level (LTL) species, and the need for harvest levels that leave higher stocks in the sea to maintain other dependent species and ensure the diversity and stability of the ecosystem.

The MSC’s new requirements provide much more explicit definitions of acceptable exploitation rates for low trophic level species. These reflect the research findings and further reduce the risk of unsustainable impacts on dependent species.

New scoring requirements

In order to score at the 60 level -- the minimum acceptable to become MSC certified with conditions for additional performance improvement -- fisheries must maintain stocks of key LTL species at levels that protect dependent parts of the ecosystem.

These minimum requirements are intended to allow for the additional ecosystem demands on key LTL species. In order to meet the minimum acceptable level, the fishery must adopt a target stock level of at least 40 percent of the estimated un-fished population.

In addition to this requirement, it must also ensure that its target stock levels are substantially above the accepted maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for the species.

For example, where the accepted MSY is 40 per cent, an LTL fishery must, to meet the 60 scoring requirement, set a target stock level of at least 55 percent, said the MSC.

The target stock level must not be set below the limit of 40 percent un-fished levels, however, even where MSY is estimated to be below 25 percent.

To score at the 80 level, which conforms to the sustainability outcomes expected from fisheries management systems performing at global best practice, low trophic level fish stocks must be maintained at a default 75 percent of the level where no fishing occurs. Other levels are permitted provided these can be shown not to have a significant impact on other species.

If this 80 level of performance is not reached at certification, a condition will be attached to the certification requiring this performance level to be reached within the five-year certification period.

These new requirements for certification will provide greater certainty that low trophic level fisheries that achieve certification are minimizing their effect on other species and the ecosystem.


These new requirements must be used by certifiers for all new assessments of low trophic level fisheries after August 15, 2011.

Fisheries that fall within the scope of the requirements and which are already certified, or were in assessment before the effective date, must implement the new requirements at re-assessment.

“This important work has been conducted to clarify MSC’s requirements on the additional precaution that must be applied in managing low trophic level species by fisheries seeking MSC certification. We trust these new requirements will assure the sustainability of low trophic level fisheries and the myriad species that depend upon these same resources,” said Dan Hoggarth, Senior Fisheries Assessment Manager, MSC.

Latest news
Most read