18. April 2019 Nils Kluger

Sustainable fishing and finning – reality of the MSC label


The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) claims to be committed to ensuring that shark finning cannot take place in any fisheries certified as sustainable. The MSC’s policy with regard to finning is clear in wording and in placing the responsibility in the hands of the certifying agencies (Conformity Assessment Bodies = CABs). Accordingly, CABs should not certify a fishery “if there is objective, verifiable evidence that shark fins are being caught”.

However, there is clear evidence that Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) do not properly apply the MSC standard to shark fins. For the tuna fishery PNA alone, 429 cases of finning occurred during the period considered by the CAB (2012-2015). Nevertheless, the fishery was certified and in the category for finning the CAB gave the second highest value after which finning is highly unlikely to take place. However, in addition to PNA fishing, irregularities were found in other fisheries. Sharkproject, together with 58 signatory parties from academia, retail (including Woolworths), fisheries, and Nonprofit organizations has signed an anti-shark finning letter in a bid to stop finning from being “tolerated” and continuing within Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fisheries.

We therefore remain deeply concerned that while the MSC continues to inform the public that the despicable practice of finning is prohibited, it continues to take place in certified fisheries. Together with other supporters we demands the following minimum Standards for MSC fisheries to be implemented:

  • All fisheries that catch sharks must land them in accordance with the “naturally applied fins” directive in order to obtain the minimum criteria for a positive assessment in the “finning” category of the MSC certification. This has been in force in the EU since 2013.
  • The MSC must oblige the CABs to apply the precautionary principle. The CABs have repeatedly called finning unlikely, although at the same time they did not certify sufficient data availability. If no or insufficient data on finning, by-catch and compliance are available, CABs should be prohibited from certifying fishing for shark fins.
  • MSC must ensure that CABs correctly apply the MSC Shark Finning Score Standards. In numerous certified fisheries over the past decade, CABs have found that “shark finning is unlikely to take place” despite signs of finning and no evidence that sanctions are being imposed.
  • CABs should only be allowed to certify a fishery if the data clearly show the required result.

The MSC can play an important leadership role by ensuring that its finning requirements are correctly implemented. Through this, the MSC label can fulfil its duty to protect consumers who wish to make “sustainable” decisions in order to protect endangered species and the biodiversity of our oceans.