Greenpeace is of the opinion that no fully credible certification system for sustainable seafood currently exists. Although Greenpeace acknowledges the MSC’s professional operation and its transparency and stakeholder involvement at all levels, Greenpeace does not currently endorse the MSC. Key reasons for this can be found in the 'Weaknesses' box below.
MSC is a large organisation with its head office in London, and several regional offices. The MSC is governed by a Board of Trustees, which takes advice from the Technical Advisory Board and Stakeholder Council. The governing bodies include representatives from industry, environmental groups and science, and from different geographical regions.
The MSC oversees two related certifications. The first is as described on the MSC label: 'This product comes from a fishery which has been certified to the Marine Stewardship Council's environmental standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery." It relates to fisheries activities up to but not beyond the point at which the fish are landed. The programme currently only applies to wild-capture fisheries not to aquaculture.
The second certification programme is the "Chain of Custody" certification that ensures traceability of certified fisheries products from point of landing to sale, and allows use of the MSC logo on packaging and at fish counters, restaurant menus, etc.
Main strengths and weaknesses of the MSC seafood certification program
The program operates professionally
The MSC, the Certifying Bodies (those that assess and certify fisheries and supply chains to the MSC standards), and the Accreditation Body (which monitors the work of the Certifying Bodies) all operate at a professional level, following acceptable industry practice to apply and monitor the MSC's standards.
The program is transparent
Most of the information about the MSC program, how it works, and its rules and regulations is available on its website. More technical documents that may not be of public interest are available on request. Assessment reports for fisheries are highly detailed, fully referenced and peer reviewed and available online.
Stakeholders are involved in all levels of the programme
However, there are other certification programs that have stronger standards for ensuring a higher and more balanced level of stakeholder involvement. In addition there are issues with the objections process that may limit stakeholder input (see below).
Standards are performance based
Certified fisheries must go beyond just having the right documents and systems in place and must be regularly monitored to show that they are putting the standards into practice.
The environmental standards are not strong enough
The standards fail to adequately address critical issues of fishery sustainability, such as overfishing and the impacts of destructive fishing. In addition, in some cases the requirements for meeting the standards are not stringent and weak language is used which leaves room for interpretation and lowering of the standards.
The objections process is not accessible to all
Objecting to the certification of a particular fishery through the official objections procedure is too time consuming and costly for some stakeholders.
Socio-economic standards are weak or absent
Issues such as basic workers rights, and a fair process for deciding who has the rights to fish, and how much they are allowed to take can be particularly important to the health and livelihoods of local people. While not considered within its scope by the MSC, other sustainability and/or ethical certification systems do include socio-economic considerations.
Greenpeace uses a certification assessment tool to evaluate and compare some of the most commonly used certification programs. In this context we have carefully assessed the MSC and other certification schemes and made a thorough judgment about these. For a more detailed overview of the issues raised here, please download the Briefing Greenpeace Assessment of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Fisheries Certification Program.