MSC aims to balance rigor and accessibility with new standard
The latest Marine Stewardship Council fishing standard has been published – and according to Ernesto Jardim, director of the MSC Fishing Standard, the new edition continues the organization’s commitment to fostering sustainable fishing.
The new standards were unanimously approved by the MSC Board of Trustees on June 24, 2022. The organization hailed the new standard as a “major achievement” after the four-year review process received the input from over 1,000 industry stakeholders.
Part of the MSC’s constant challenge in creating a new standard and enforcing those standards — and why the achievement is monumental, Jardim told SeafoodSource — is that it must create a standard that is rigorous enough to push companies towards more sustainable practices, but who is not. so rigorous that it is out of reach for those seeking certification. This balance must be struck, even if stakeholders sometimes take opposing positions on what should be included in the standard, Jardim said.
“The work we’ve done over the last four years – mostly focused on the last few years – has been a lot of trying to find that balance, trying to find that sweet spot,” Jardim said. “Sometimes it’s not exactly a great place, because you end up in a place where nobody is because there are polarized views on some of the things that we do – and you end up in the middle of those views – which is almost a no man’s land.”
Despite these challenges, Jardim said the MSC has managed to strike a balance. He told SeafoodSource that the board’s unanimous vote is a testament to the amount of work the MSC has put in to balance the various stakeholders in the complex seafood industry.
“We have the board as representatives of all the different industries. The fact that the board unanimously approved the standard speaks volumes that we have achieved some sort of balance,” Jardim said.
The MSC has faced criticism from NGOs over its new standard, with some groups calling on the MSC to adopt stricter requirements. Jardim said the criticism is partly a symptom of the MSC’s continued balancing of competing issues — a key element in ensuring companies are genuinely striving to embrace change.
Jardim said tThe requirements imposed by the MSC via its standard always return to equilibrium.
“You can put the performance level anywhere, from zero to anywhere, and as soon as you put it too high, you lose it,” Jardim said. “If we don’t have fishing, we won’t make any change, because if there is no one to implement the change we are asking for, then there is no change.”
Nor does it mean that standards can be set too low, Jardim said. The MSC bases its sustainability standards on scientific evidence, or what science identifies as best practice, he said.
“What we try [to do] all the time is to go back to what our research and what science shows us,” Jardim said. “In doing so, we try to find an area where we feel comfortably supported by evidence or by science or by scientific advice, while bringing stakeholders into an area where they don’t feel uncomfortable. “
Still, the standard can’t be so lenient that it’s easy – again, there’s a balance between accessibility and difficulty, he said.
“At the end of the day, we don’t get people into a comfortable position. We get people into positions where they are not uncomfortable,” Jardim said.
An important aspect of ensuring the feasibility of MSC certification in the latest fishing standard, Jardim said, is clarifying the language used and simplifying certain aspects of it to reduce the barrier to entry.
“What we’ve tried to do is make the assessment process itself simpler and less cumbersome,” Jardim said. “By doing this, we’re hoping that it will end up being less expensive, that it will be easier to use for a fishery that may not be a very large, wealthy, industrial fishery. The fact that we’re simplifying the standard will help fisheries that need less and less fees throughout the process.”
Simplification for the MSC, Jardim said, means removing scoring issues that were not needed and redundancy in the standard. Another major objective was to simplify the language to avoid ambiguity and reduce the need for fisheries to justify how they met the standards.
Jardim said the MSC standard remains a strong test of the sustainability of wild fisheries.
“While the system itself may be more complex, the way the system is described and implemented will be simpler by being clearer and more direct in what we are asking for,” Jardim said.
Another MSC effort to increase access is to create “Pathways Projects” and scale them up. Pathway projects are a way for multiple fishery stakeholders to collaborate and use MSC tools to make improvements towards reaching the MSC standard – similar to a Fishery Improvement Project, Jsaid Ardim.
“We are preparing to scale up in this pre-certification space by trying to create a more structured approach so that fisheries can be directed towards the standard, or the entry level of the standard,” Jardim said. . “We see this as an important part of our contribution, of implementing our theory of change.”
The goal, Jardim said, is to get fisheries to a point where they can decide to pursue MSC certification based on market factors and interest in pursuing certification, not based on the fact that the fisheries are too far away. from the standards to achieve the objectives.
“That’s the idea, and that was part of the development of this standard,” Jardim said. “It was something that kept coming back to us, the issue of accessibility. There are a number of fisheries that are not ready yet. What do we do with them?
Jardim said sSome of these fisheries are not making progress on sustainability, and the MSC has put a lot of thought into how to bring them into its fold. But ultimately, he said, not all fisheries may be able to achieve MSC certification – in part, again, because of the organization’s efforts to maintain standards rigorous while maintaining feasibility.
“This is how we promulgate our theory of change,” Jardim said.
Image courtesy of the Marine Stewardship Council