How we meet best practice

It’s vital that everyone, from fishers to retailers, scientists to consumers, has confidence in the blue MSC label and the credibility of the claims made by MSC certified organisations.


Ensuring confidence

Below we have detailed the safeguards we put in place to ensure confidence in the MSC label. Collectively, these safeguards make up what we call the MSC assurance system. This system is used to make sure the assessment process for fisheries and supply chain businesses is working and meets best practice.  

Additionally, our Fisheries and Chain of Custody Standards, which fisheries and businesses are assessed against, are compliant with international benchmarking bodies.


Best practice in fishery assessments

Under the MSC program, fisheries can get certified if they meet the MSC Fisheries Standard.

Independent certification

The MSC operates a third-party certification program. This means we do not assess or certify fisheries. 

Fishery assessments are carried out by teams of auditors who are experts in fisheries science and management and are independent of the fishery and the MSC. The certification process is managed by an independent conformity assessment body (also known as a CAB). 

What does third party mean?

Third-party programs offer the highest level of assurance that the outcomes of assessments are unbiased. Here’s how they compare to other forms of certification: 

  • First party: An organisation self-assesses if its product or service meets a standard
  • Second party: Peers, such as an industry association or a buyer, check if the organisation’s product or service has met the standard
  • Third party: An independent assessment shows that the organisation’s product or service meets the standard

The MSC, in consultation with stakeholders, sets standards for sustainable fisheries and supply chains. The independent assessments are carried out by the CABs, following specific processes that are also set by MSC. 

This third-party system means consumers can be confident that the outcomes of assessments are free from the influence of either the client or the MSC.

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How we meet best practice


Additional safeguards

Third-party certification is widely regarded as the most trustworthy system for objective assessments. However, there can still be risks to the integrity of the system – such as real or perceived conflicts of interest – and these must be mitigated.

The MSC has introduced over 30 assurance safeguards over the years, built into our third-party certification model. These include:

  • Appointing Assurance Services International (ASI) as an external oversight body for CABs
  • Ensuring CABs follow ISO 17065, an international standard used in many sectors including food safety, to ensure that assessment teams operate in a competent, consistent and impartial manner
  • Providing mandatory online training and relevant qualification requirements for assessors
  • The inclusion of independent peer review to check the expert judgement within fishery assessments
  • The publication of all assessment reports on our Track a Fishery website

Other safeguards include:



Best practice in supply chain traceability

All companies that buy and sell certified seafood comply with the MSC Chain of Custody Standard. As with fisheries, these companies are certified by a third-party audit. 

This means all seafood sold with the MSC blue fish label can be traced back to a certified sustainable source. This is important because around 30% of seafood globally is mislabelled. DNA testing has shown that mislabelling rates for MSC labelled seafood are less than 1%. 

A traceable supply chain is necessary to fight seafood fraud. It means consumers can trust that what they are eating really is what it says on the packet. 

Our Chain of Custody Standard set us apart from other sustainable seafood initiatives, such as ratings cards, that don’t guarantee traceability.

“Certification provides the highest level of assurance that the product is verified to be sustainable, is harvested legally, and is traceable back to its source.”  

- Certification and Ratings Collaboration


Compliance with external bodies

We go to great lengths to ensure we meet the highest international benchmarks for credible certification and ecolabeling. 

Our program is the only global wild seafood certification program to be aligned with all the following international norms:




Additional recognition of best practice

In addition to meeting international norms and guidelines for best practice, our program is well regarded by numerous international organisations who scrutinise the role of standard setting in safeguarding our oceans.

Global leaders in ocean sustainability

The MSC and other credible standard setters are seen to have a key role to play in helping companies and governments to achieve the United Nations Environment Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals by providing best practice guidance for 'what good looks like' in a specific industry.

MSC certification is used as an indicator in the UN Convention on Biodiversity’s Aichi Targets. Part of the UN’s decade-long initiative to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2020, these targets were widely consulted with the international conservation and governance community.


Maintaining best practice

Just as we develop our standards in accordance with the latest scientific understanding, we periodically review our entire program.

The MSC is currently reviewing the assurance system to increase its effectiveness and address real or perceived issues within the system.

The review is focused on key work areas running from 2018-2020.

  • Assurance Oversight: The first step is to review the overall assurance system and identify any quick wins. This includes strengthening our training programs, improving our Quality Management System, scrutinising conflict of interest controls and more focus on data monitoring. 
  • Certification Process Review: In the medium term, we have identified three key areas of the certification process for review: the closing and tracking of conditions, the objections process and dispute resolution mechanism for stakeholders in fisheries assessments. Improving these processes could help ensure fishery assessments are fair and lead to better outcomes.
  • Standard Review: On a longer timescale, we are addressing a number of different aspects of the MSC Fisheries Standard through the Fisheries Standard Review.

Read more about the MSC Assurance System


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