Full assessment for all fisheries is not possible over 4 years. The reasons why?

The full assessment of a fishery takes at least 12 months and is resource hungry. The capacity of the industry and the Department of Fisheries are limited and, realistically, the available resources can only cope with servicing the assessment of about 4 fisheries per year.

It is expected that this initiative will roll out over the next decade or so. Depending upon perceived benefits some fisheries will be keen to move quickly to certification, others may hold back and determine whether to enter into the MSC program depending on such factors as the growth of market demand for certified product and their assessment of the costs and benefits of certification. Entering into MSC full assessment is a voluntary decision.

The Department of Fisheries is changing its system of reporting to reflect what is required for assessment against the MSC standard making the supply of information and data for fisheries entering MSC full assessment more streamlined and cost efficient in the future.

Third party certification is a process to ensure compliance with a publicly available technical specification, such as the MSC standard. Importantly, an independent third party that is qualified and accredited against the standard, undertakes assessments and decides whether to award certification.

The MSC certification and ecolabelling program is a third-party program. Independent certifiers carry out assessments of fisheries and businesses against their standard for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. This ensures the MSC program is robust, credible and meets best practice guidelines for standard-setting organisations as set out by ISEAL and the FAO.

An ecolabel is the seal of approval to demonstrate that a product has met the standard of an environmental certification program. Ecolabelling is an effective way of informing customers about the environmental impacts of selected products, and the choices they can make. It empowers people to discriminate between products. The true power of an ecolabel comes from the credibility of the environmental standard upon which it is based.

The State Government’s $14.5m initiative to have every WA wild-capture fishery assessed against the MSC standard is a once in a generation opportunity to benchmark the status of all 47 our commercial fisheries based on world’s best practice.

Just over half of the funding goes toward increasing the Department of Fisheries research and management capacity so that it can meet the huge task of delivering the research data as per the requirements of the MSC Standard to the independent assessors. Assessors also gather information direct from the companies and fishermen that operate in each fishery.

In the pre-assessment stage the independent assessors use available information to provide an opinion on:

  1. The current status of the fishery against each of the MSC principles and criteria;
  2. Likely gaps and any improvements that may be needed in the performance of the fishery before it could achieve full MSC certification standard; and
  3. The level of overlap of issues among fisheries within each bioregion, to inform how they should be structured for full assessment. €

The Department will continue to report on the status of all fisheries as per the requirements of MSC assessment.

The whole process of MSC pre-assessment provides an independent review on the management of WA fisheries and establishes a benchmark to monitor and track on-going improvement in our fisheries against the MSC standard.  In addition the Department’s new reporting framework on the status of fisheries will make it more cost efficient for fisheries to move into MSC full assessment in the future in terms of supplying data on each fishery.

Independent, third party MSC certification of local fisheries will build on the Department of Fisheries strong record in fisheries management and provide a range of benefits to the Western Australia community and the seafood industry that supplies and sells our local seafood. Key benefits are:

  • Enhanced public confidence in the sustainability of WA’s fisheries;
  • Greater confidence among fish buyers that the seafood they are purchasing is sustainably fished;
  • Assurance to a wide range of stakeholders and other fisheries resource users that WA’s commercial fisheries are sustainably managed to international standards;
  • Opening up of new markets;
  • Securing access to markets;
  • Encouragement of business and market innovation, and regional investment;
  • Support for regional communities; and
  • Providing a basis to develop stronger partnerships with regional tourism.

The MSC’s fisheries environmental standard is widely recognised as the most complete and comprehensive. It’s the gold standard of certifying programs.

The MSC runs the only certification and ecolabeling program for wild-capture fisheries that is consistent with all of the following international norms:

  • The ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards;
  • The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing -United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO);
  • Guidelines for the Ecolabeling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries (FAO); and
  • World Trade Organization Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements.

These guidelines are based on the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing, which require credible fishery certification and ecolabeling schemes to include:

  • Objective, third-party fishery assessment using scientific evidence;
  • Transparent processes with built-in stakeholder consultation and objection procedures;
  • Standards based on the sustainability of target species, ecosystems and management practices. €The MSC standard is already in use by a number of major retailers and fish processors (primarily Australian and international supermarket chains).

For more information on how MSC meets best practice guidelines for standard-setting organisations as set out by ISEAL and the FAO.

Download Independent Review of Fishing Sustainability Information Schemes (1.858719Mb)

The MSC full assessment process is transparent and provides opportunities for stakeholder input. Information on each fishery going through full assessment is published on the MSC website. To find out how to have your say and track a fishery.

There is opportunity to pursue certification for WA’s growing aquaculture sector most likely through the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Pearling and Cockburn Sound Mussels, due to the live capture component of the fisheries, will go through pre-assessment as part of the current initiative.

The Department of Fisheries has established a Certification Advisory Panel made up of representatives from the Department, WA Fishing Industry Council, RecfishWest and the Marine Stewardship Council to oversee the program.


Download Guidelines for accessing government monies(188.121kb)

The Marine Stewardship Council sets a standard for sustainable fishing, but it is an independent Conformity Assessment Body, approved by the MSC, that carries out the assessment and decides whether a fishery is certified. There are currently 10 CABs worldwide accredited to undertake full MSC fisheries assessments.

Having an independent CAB carry out assessment and approve certification is a crucial element of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing.

A ‘fishery’ in the MSC program may include one or more ‘units of certification’. A unit of certification is usually defined by reference to the following:

  • Target fish species and stock
  • Geographic area of fishing
  • Fishing method, gear, practice and/or vessel type

The unit(s) of certification of a fishery sets out exactly what is under assessment. If the fishery is certified, only fish from the named unit(s) of certification will be able to carry the MSC ecolabel in the marketplace.

If a fishery has more than one unit of certification, when the certifier makes a decision about whether or not the fishery meets the MSC Standard. It is possible that some units can pass while others, that don’t meet the standard, fail. Only seafood from units of certification that meet the MSC standard and are certified can carry the blue MSC ecolabel.

The fishery client at the beginning of the assessment process decides the unit(s) of certification, with advice from the certifier.

For more information go to www.msc.org

To ensure fish sold with the MSC ecolabel comes from a certified fishery. Chain of Custody means the seafood you purchase can be traced back to its source fishery. Ideally, labels on seafood product should provide verifiable information about the species, the source fishery, which naturally includes the country of origin, and sustainability information.

The MSC was founded in 1997 in a partnership between WWF and fish processor, Unilever, in response to the Newfoundland Grand Banks cod fishery collapse. It’s now an independent, not-for-profit organisation based in London.

The MSC does not charge a fishery to be assessed against its Standard. (The independent assessors charge to conduct the assessments, none of this revenue goes to the MSC.)

The majority of MSC revenue comes from its ecolabel licensing program and charitable donations.


The FRDC, on behalf of the Australian Government, is providing funding support for WAFIC to assist in industry communication and engagement, trial a range of chain of custody methodologies and to facilitate equivalence with other environmental performance reporting requirement. It is also providing funding to the WA Deparment of Fisheries to research improving efficiency in generating submissions and consistency of outcomes for MSC based assessments.