Environmental Certification



In the modern world the ecosystem approach is the basis for the sustainable exploitation of biological resources. The increase in the rate of depletion of harvested fish stocks, the degradation of marine ecosystems and the disappointment of long-term forecasts in reproduction of marine bioresources led to the consolidation of efforts of international organizations. The aim was to develop and implement systems of voluntary environmental certification - an independent integrated assessment of the compliance of fisheries with the criteria for sustainability. Environmental certification does not evaluate the quality of fish products but how much fishery does not harm the environment and does not lead to depletion of the harvested stocks.

The goal of environmental certification is to improve the management of biological resources and introduce principles of sustainable fisheries, as well as promote environmentally responsible business among consumers and indirectly provide mechanisms for its support. Environmental certification is beneficial not only from environmental positions. It also allows getting more profit per unit of product, because certified fish traditionally costs more. Environmental certification also facilitates capturing of new markets.

There are different programs of environmental certification; one of the most demanded at the moment is certification according to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).


Sustainable is called the fishery which meets the following conditions:

  • can last as long as desired;
  • seeks to the health status of ecosystems and the highest possible level of commercial stocks;
  • supports the diversity, structure and functioning of those ecosystems on which it depends, seeking to minimize the damage from its activities;
  • corresponds to local, federal and international legislation and standards;
  • creates opportunities for economic and social development.


In 1997, the world's largest buyer of fish products - Unilever and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) formed the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The Marine Stewardship Council is an independent, non-profit international organization whose mission is to preserve fish stocks and ensure the viability of marine ecosystems. The MSC certification system uses international rules and norms, including UN documents, universal principles of sustainable management of marine bioresources and fishing enterprises.



Any fishing company can participate in the MSC certification program, regardless of the scale of their activities, target species, fishing gear, location, etc. For a responsible approach to the exploitation of marine bioresources, the Marine Stewardship Council gives the right to the manufacturer to label the products with the MSC logo, which attests to the compliance of these products with the environmental standards of fishing and processing.

The MSC program is carried out on a voluntary basis and is not an obligatory legislative measure taken by the government. The objects of certification are individual commercial populations and fishing areas. A specific list of assessed units is determined by the international body, i.e. MSC, and a certification agency (an MSC accredited organization) based on the principles and criteria for environmentally responsible fisheries.

The certification process begins with the customer submitting the application to the certification agency. The certification agency primarily performs a preliminary assessment of the fishery. Preliminary assessment is conducted confidentially; the certifying agency collects all information related to the fishery and its management system. If necessary, the certifying agency shall compile a list of areas of activity to be improved before full certification can be performed.

A full assessment requires the appointment of an expert group by the certification agency. The expert group visits the fishing enterprise and consults the interested parties. The information collected by the expert group is analyzed and evaluated for compliance with the principles and criteria of environmentally responsible fishing. The full authority to make a certification decision belongs to a certifying agency. The decision may include requirements that must be met to maintain certification and is to be publicly announced.

The validity of the certification is five years; at the end of this period, a re-certification audit of the fishing enterprise must be carried out. The certified fishing company is annually visited by an auditor to check whether the certification requirements continue to be complied with.

The MSC certificate gives the fishing company the right to use the following statement on the packaging of its products: "This product comes from a fishery that has been independently certified to the MSC’s standard for a well-managed and sustainable fishery".


In the definition adopted by the Marine Stewardship Council, sustainable fisheries should be based on the following principles:


 I – Sustainable fish stocks

Fishing should be conducted in such a way that there is no overfishing or decline in the number of harvested populations, and for those fishing populations that currently experience a decline in numbers, the fishery should be conducted in such a way as to ensure that stocks can be recovered.

The purpose of implementing this principle is to be sure that the ability to recover of the harvested stocks remains at a high level and is not sacrificed for short-term interests.


 II – Minimizing environmental impact

Fishing operations should not seriously destroy the structure and reduce the productivity and diversity of marine ecosystems on which fishing depends.

The purpose of implementing this principle is fishery management based on the ecosystem approach, taking into account its impact on ecosystems and minimizing possible damage.

At present, most models of fisheries management are based on a single-species approach, when the influence of numerous natural factors, including the relationship between different species of animals, is ignored.


 III - Effective management

The fishery is the object of effective management and meets international, local and state standards and is carried out within the framework requiring the use of resources responsibly and sustainably.

The purpose of implementing this principle is the belief that the necessary conditions have been created for the implementation of the first and second principles.


For more detailed information see:

Private standards and certification in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO Technical Paper.

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An introduction to MSC fisheries certification. Sustainable fishing for today and tomorrow. 

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