It has a broad scope
It includes both fisheries and aquaculture and includes socio-economic as well as ecological considerations.
It has a relatively simple assessment process
This makes it quicker and cheaper and thus more accessible to small-scale and artisanal fisheries and producers than other certification schemes.
The standards include clear bottom lines about what cannot be certified
This leaves less room for misinterpretation. For example, no fisheries can be certified that have discards of over 8% of catch, and certain aquaculture species will not be considered for certification because their production requires restocking with juveniles taken from depleted wild stocks. e.g. European eel and bluefin tuna.
The programme has recently incorporated stronger standards for fisheries and aquaculture but they only apply to new certifications
The fisheries and aquaculture standards were updated with stronger criteria in December 2008 and May 2009, respectively, but these apply only to operations assessed after this dates.
The environmental standards are not strong enough
Environmental standards fail to adequately address a broad range of critical issues for both fisheries and aquaculture and weak language is used in some cases. A key failure of the standards for aquaculture is that there are no requirements to use sustainably sourced fish feed. Fisheries standards have now been significantly improved and are relatively strong, however they only apply to fisheries that were assessed after January 2009.
There is a lack of professionalism and transparency
This has been a big issue for those attempting to understand how FOTS works, although there has been significant improvement in this area over the past year. Institutional and technical documents are now available on the website, but they are, on the whole, fairly simple and contain many errors.
Certification assessment documents have recently been made available on the website, however many assessments are not yet available. Finally, there is no 3rd party or “accreditation body” checking that the certification bodies are performing assessments and audits adequately.
There is poor stakeholder involvement.
Stakeholders are not well represented in either the development of the standard, or the in the development or running of the programme, and there is no process for stakeholder input into the certification assessments. There is little transparency as to which stakeholders are involved, or how FOTS ensures that the views of all stakeholders are balanced and considered.
The objections process is unclear and not accessible to all
Although there is an objections procedure, the process is not clear and the results are not documented publicly, and it is too costly for some stakeholders.
The socio-economic standards are not strong enough
Socio-economic standards have now been significantly improved and are relatively strong, however they only apply to fishery and aquaculture operations that were assessed after January 2009. Although the old standards included some socio-economic considerations, they were limited to the requirements that wages paid must meet the legal standards and there must be no forced labour or child labour.
The quality and consistency of assessments are poor
Standards can only be as strong as their application, and this is a key area where FOTS certification falls down. The majority of assessment reports are essentially a Yes/No checklist assessment with minimal information provided to back up the claims, and they appear to be carried out by only one person in a very short time-frame. Few of the reports are referenced, and those that are contain references that are not relevant to the fishery. This may be partly due to the lack of guidance documents provided to explain how to use the fisheries and aquaculture criteria checklists, or how to interpret and apply the various criteria. There appears to be no review process or quality control, which has allowed broad, and in some cases inaccurate, interpretation of both the criteria and evidence.