Information of the Marine Stewardship Council Certification Process and Developing Countries

MSC-report-image_smallThe way fisheries are managed and how participatory mechanisms are rooted in policy and regulatory systems present implications for information providers, users, and decision-makers (FAO, 2009). Research has shown that the use and influence of fisheries scientific information are shaped and defined by the context in which stakeholders (e.g., fishers, mangers, and policy makers) operate, as well as the stakeholders’ values, perceptions, and judgment (Cash et al., 2002; Nutley, Walter & Davis, 2007). Fisheries assessments are an important management tool for informing managers, policy-makers, and decision-makers. However, many challenges in developing countries can affect the use and influence of scientific information required for fisheries assessments and management. For example, competition between economic development and environmental conservation can determine whether information is used or not (Soomai, 2009). Therefore, shortcomings with scientific information and communication processes can hinder the role that fisheries assessments play within management and policy-making in developing countries.

Certification schemes emphasize desirable standards in fisheries practices and ecolabels convey information to consumers and retailers about the environmental impact of products. The certification assures consumers about the information conveyed with the ecolabel (Chaffee, Leadbitter & Aalders, 2003; Wessells, Cochrane, Deere, Wallis & Willmann, 2001). The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), with its blue ecolabel and fishery assessment methodology, has become a key player in the field of seafood ecolabelling and certification, providing the most respected fisheries assessment guidelines in the scientific community (Peacey, 2001). The MSC certification program gathers information based on the organization’s principles and criteria for sustainable fishing. These principles relate to the status of fish stocks, the impact of fisheries on ecosystems, and the status of fishery management. As the MSC certification process itself is a driver in the production of scientific information, it has the potential to enhance the social, governance, and environmental outcomes for developing countries through its fisheries assessment methodology.

The purpose of my research was to develop an understanding of the role of the information of the MSC certification process, in order to draft recommendations for developing countries about how to enhance both production and use of scientific information for fisheries management practices using the MSC’s framework (Cano Chacón, 2013). The goal of the research was to develop an understanding of the role of the information produced in the certification process rather than the effectiveness or efficiency of the certification itself. Therefore, the study focused on the outputs in the process, i.e., the final certification and surveillance reports, with less attention placed on the drivers behind the information inputs to the process.

In order, to determine the relation between the information of the certification process and fisheries in developing California Rock Lobster (Panulirus interruptus)countries, two MSC certified fisheries in Mexico were selected as case studies: the Baja California red rock lobster (Panulirus interruptus) fishery and the Sian Ka’an and Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) fishery. By working with the Environmental Information: Use and Influence research initiative, I was able to focus on two main aspects: awareness and use of the information generated in the MSC certification in these fisheries, and the information framework and life-cycle of the certification reports.

This study involved a review of literature about the MSC certification process and content analysis of documentation about the certification process available on the MSC Web site, analysis of citations of reports generated in the certification of the Mexican fisheries, and semi-structured survey questionnaires sent to relevant individuals and stakeholders in the two lobster fisheries. The questionnaires asked participants about the production, distribution, acquisition, and awareness of the reports, and questions designed to assess the use of the information produced by the certification process.

The life cycle of reports produced in the certification process showed that the documents are substantial assessments of the state of particular fisheries, encompassing current information about biological and ecological aspects of particular fisheries and their management. The reports also set out mandated areas of improvements as conditions for certification.

While the evidence in this study showed that use of the certification reports was limited, participants noted that the reports satisfy the characteristics of useful information, namely, being salient, credible, and legitimate. In addition, the data shows that use of the reports was more indirect than direct in fisheries management. Awareness of the reports by stakeholders and policy-makers indirectly affected their knowledge and attitudes about a fishery. The purpose of the certification team’s work in preparing the certification reports is to explain the rational for its assessment about the sustainability of a fishery rather than to directly inform policy.

Map of MexicoIn conclusion, evidence assembled in this study confirmed that the MSC certification program can be beneficial not only for socio-economic developments in developing countries, but also for the information generated in the certification process, which can inform fisheries management and increase the research capacity of developing countries. Since the language (primarily English) and technical format of the reports and their distribution can be barriers to the use of the information in the reports, one recommendation arising from this study is that summary versions of reports for the fishing industry in the native language of the country be produced. In addition, initiatives to increase awareness of the location of the reports (primarily only on the MSC Web site), and involvement of government authorities in the dissemination of information of the MSC reports were recommended as methods to promote wider use of the reports.


Cano Chacón, M. (2013). The role of the information of the Marine Stewardship Council certification process in developing countries: A case study of two MSC certified fisheries in Mexico. (Unpublished Master’s project). Dalhousie University, Canada.

Cash, D., Clark, W. C., Alcock, F., Dickson, N., Eckley, N., & Jäger, J. (2002). Salience, credibility, legitimacy and boundaries: Linking research, assessment and decision making. Research Programs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Chaffee, C., Leadbitter, D., & Aalders, E. (2003). Seafood evaluation, certification and consumer information. In B. Phillips, T. Ward & C. Chaffee (eds.), Eco-labeling in fisheries: What is it all about (pp. 4-13). USA: Blackwell Publishing.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). (2009). Information and knowledge sharing. Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries No. 12. Rome: FAO

Nutley, S., Walter, I., & Davies, H. (2007). Using evidence: How research can inform public services. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Peacey, J. (2001). The Marine Stewardship Council fisheries certification program: Progress and challenges. In R. Johnston & A. Shriver (Eds.), Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET), July 10-14, Oregon, USA.

Soomai, S. (2009). Information and influence in fisheries management: A preliminary study of the shrimp and groundfish resources in the Brazil-Guianas continental shelf. (Unpublished Master’s project). Dalhousie University, Canada.

Wessells, C., Cochrane, K., Deere, C., Wallis, P., & Willmann, R. (2001). Product certification and ecolabelling for fisheries sustainability. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 422. Rome: FAO.

Author: Melissa Cano Chacón

This post is a summary of a Master of Marine Management research project report completed in December 2014. The full report is available at this link.

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