Fisheries showed both quantifiable environmental changes, such as improved stock status and reduced bycatch, as well as increases in knowledge and certainty about ecosystem impacts. This trajectory of improvement was documented through changes in key indicators of environmental performance starting at pre-assessment and continuing through and beyond certification.
The study, Researching the Environmental Impacts of the MSC Certification Programme, is the first ever to examine fishery performance through the whole flow of the MSC assessment process. It focused on improvements in eight key outcome performance indicators that the MSC assessment process measures and tracks over time: stock status, population reference points, stock recovery, retained species, bycatch species, endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species, habitats and ecosystems.
The MSC is very pleased with the results of this study, said Rupert Howes, MSC Chief Executive. Even though we recognize that the relative youth of our programme means the number of fisheries available for analysis was small, this study builds very effectively upon earlier explorations of the benefits of certification. The correlation between increases in scores and environmental benefits has paved the way to a more permanent monitoring and evaluation system for environmental impacts. We are committed to tracking these performance indicators for all certified fisheries and producing an annual report on the environmental performance of the MSC programme.
At the point of certification all fisheries must have demonstrated they are operating sustainably. The study shows that five years post-certification, over 90 per cent of the performance indicators measured were achieving higher scores of at least 80 consistent with global best practice in fisheries management. This compares with between 50 and 70 per cent of performance indicators at that level for fisheries at pre-assessment.
The study compared these changes in MSC indicators with performance data independent of the MSC programme, such as published stock status and bycatch data. This analysis showed that changes in scores against MSC performance indicators were reflected in real changes in underlying indicators of target stock status and bycatch species.
Chris Zimmermann, Chair of MSCs Technical Advisory Board, commenting on this aspect of the analysis, said: The presence of a statistically robust link between changes in scores and the underlying resource is a crucial result. It confirms that the standard is linked to key environmental performance metrics and capable of differentiating between fisheries. A transparent measuring system where changes in scores mean changes in resources sends a clear assurance to the supply chain that MSC certified fisheries are performing as promised.
In addition to stock status and rebuilding, the study also identified on the water improvements in outcomes relating to ecosystem impacts, such as reduction of non-target fish and bird bycatch, reduced trawl times, and an expansion of protected areas. Certified fisheries have also improved specific scores relating to wider ecosystem impacts by improving understanding and increasing certainties about the ecosystem impacts of fishery operations, through greater investment in research and more effective management systems.
The study also produced new data on fisheries undertaking pre-assessment. As of February 2011, 447 fisheries had gone through MSC pre-assessments. Of those, only 17 per cent were recommended to proceed to full assessment without needing any additional work, nearly half (48 per cent) were told they needed to address some issues before considering formal assessment, and over one third (35 per cent) were not recommended to move forward. Of the 447, only 35 per cent had in fact moved forward to full assessment at the time of the study.