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Stakeholder engagement in an MSC assessment

Marine Stewardship Council on August 18, 2014 - 6:00 am in Sustainable seafood
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In light of recent news of the Exmouth Gulf prawn and Shark Bay prawn fisheries entering assessment in Western Australia, informing stakeholders of where and how to engage in the MSC process is key in offering a transparent and fair assessment.

The MSC assessment process for sustainable fishing rightly prides itself on its transparency and the ability for stakeholders to input into the assessment. There are key times where stakeholders can input into an assessment and I’ll use this blog to help summarise where a stakeholder can raise concerns or put forward a positive viewpoint. An assessment of this scale should take around 12-13 months and to ensure comments are taken on board, they have to be raised in a timely manner. The theory is that all stakeholders interested in a fishery are highlighted before the assessment starts to ensure all those that may wish to input into an assessment are aware of the process. But it never hurts to run through things one more time.

The early days…

Most commercial fisheries are eligible to pitch themselves against the MSC standard for sustainable fishing. As part of a due diligence process, the fishery client alongside the independent assessor or Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) compile a list of stakeholders who may be interested in inputting to an assessment. This will often include government officials, fishery scientists and the wider NGO community. The intent is clear; maintain a transparent process with nothing to hide. Once a fishery has been announced, stakeholders are able to comment on the assessment team put together by the CAB to score the fishery. If a stakeholder feels that there is a potential conflict of interest for an assessor on an assessment team which could lead to a prejudiced outcome, they can request a change in team member or ask for clarification before the MSC process continues. For more information, you can visit the fishery’s notification asking for input:

Exmouth Gulf: http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/in-assessment/Indian-ocean/exmouth-gulf-prawn/assessment-downloads-1/20140806_AT_NOM_Rev_v2_PRA472.pdf

Shark Bay: http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/in-assessment/Indian-ocean/shark-bay-prawn/assessment-downloads-1/20140806_AT_NOM_Rev_v2_PRA472.pdf

There is also the opportunity to comment on the use of the default scoring tree which is used to benchmark a fishery. The default tree is normally the most appropriate assessment tool for a fishery but if you feel that a specific element of the fishery needs to be taken into account which may not be covered in the default assessment process, it is up to you to explain why this may be the case.

Scoring a fishery and site visits

Each fishery engaged in full assessment is assessed against the MSC’s three core Principles and supporting 31 Performance Indicators. The ‘scoring’ of a fishery will look for stakeholder input and the assessment team will look to meet with engaged stakeholders when the assessment visit takes place. Assessment meetings will often be in key locations for the fishery – either at a local port or nearby government offices. Once again, notification will be made with 30 days’ notice of the site visits via email and also by hosting the relevant information on the MSC website. The assessment visit for the two prawn fisheries are currently planned in the September/October timeframe so keep an eye out on the MSC website for more information and how to get involved – the assessment download pages for Exmouth Gulf and Shark Bay will show all documents related to these fisheries. This is a key time for any input into a fishery so it is one not to miss if you wish to raise anything with the CAB.

Proposed Peer Reviewers

Peer reviewers play an important part in the assessment process as knowledgeable members of the scientific community who review the work of the assessment team who scored a fishery and provided supporting rationale. This is essential to ensure the MSC standard has been applied appropriately to a fishery in the assessment process. Any stakeholder can input into the selection process to ensure appropriate peer reviewers have been selected. A minimum of two peer reviewers are proposed by the CAB with a short background into their expertise. Stakeholders have 10 days to submit written comments and/or opposition as to the selection of a proposed member of the peer review panel.

Public Comment Draft Report

When a draft report has been pulled together by the assessment team, stakeholders once again can input into the draft determination and outcomes for the fishery. This will be the first indication of whether a fishery is recommended for certification. Stakeholders have a minimum of 30 days to input on the certification outcome, scoring of a fishery, corrective action plans and on any conditions raised if the fishery is certified. This is a key step in the stakeholder process and its importance is recognised by the MSC in the longer timeframe offered for stakeholder input.


After comments are incorporated into a final report for a fishery, stakeholders can once again input into this final decision if deemed necessary. The Objections Period is not the place to look for a rescoring of a fishery nor a subjective conclusion to the sustainability of the fishery but is a review to check that CABs have followed due process, used all the appropriate information, and stakeholders were not excluded. A 15 working day period is offered to stakeholders to raise an objection. If an objection is lodged and accepted by an Independent Adjudicator (an experienced lawyer), the objection will be reviewed and either upheld or dismissed, which could lead to the assessment team making changes to the final report. For more information on the Objection Period, please visit the following page on the MSC website www.msc.org/get-certified/fisheries/assessment-process/assessment/how-objections-work-and-improve-assessments/

I hope that clears up what is a thorough and meticulous process! In summary, there are more than four opportunities to engage and be heard throughout the assessment process. If you are unsure on where and when you can comment, the best thing to do is touch base with the CAB to make sure you are on the distribution list for any developments in a fishery. In the case of the Exmouth Gulf and Shark Bay fisheries, the CAB contact details are as follows.

MRAG Americas, Inc.

Contact: Amanda Stern-Pirlot
Email: certification@mragamericas.com

More information on the MSC process and stakeholder engagement can be found in this PDF http://www.msc.org/documents/get-certified/stakeholders/stakeholder-guide-to-the-MSC-v2.pdf/

My next blog will follow my trip out of Exmouth, Western Australia on board a research trip looking at the spawning stock of king and tiger prawns.

Matt Watson,
MSC Australian Fisheries Outreach Officer

Marine Stewardship Council

Our mission is to use our ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.

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