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Guest Column: MSC certification proceeds slowly

  1. Principle 1: The sustainability of the stock

  2. Principle 2: The fishery’s impact on the ecosystem

  3. Principle 3: The effectiveness of the fishery’s management system Each principle includes many performance indicators that examine how well a fishery performs. Reviewers use a 100-point scale to assign scores in each of these 31 performance indicators when a fishery is assessed. In order to pass, a fishery may not score less than 60 against any performance indicator, and the average score within each of the three principles must be 80 or above. Almost all fisheries score below 80 in some performance indicators. When that happens, a “condition” is assigned, and the client must develop an action plan to meet the condition by improving performance in that area. The action plan must show how it will achieve certain benchmarks to increase the score to 80 or above during the certification period. If certification is granted, annual audits are conducted during the five year certification period. If reviewers accept the action plan, the assessment process can move forward. Subsequent steps involve a 30-day public comment period and an extensive review to ensure each step of the assessment process adhered to rigid MSC protocols. At the end of the lengthy process, the fishery is eligible to reap the competitive edge the MSC label provides. Even then, the MSC label is voluntary, as individuals and businesses may choose whether or not to assign it to their product. In order to obtain MSC certification, the fishery must undergo a thorough third party review which includes site visits to help reviewers gain a comprehensive understanding of fishery practices. In April, 2009, the review team met with stakeholders including Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, members of the Maine and Downeast Lobstermen’s Associations, processors, scientists, and zone council members. These conversations were used to develop an assessment report, which was delivered to the client group in 2010. With scores above 80 in each of the three principle areas, Maine’s lobster fishery passed the assessment, meaning the review team deemed it a sustainable fishery. But the report included conditions in seven areas, which the client group thought was unreasonable for such a robust fishery. So rather than develop an action plan for each condition, the client group compiled additional data to ensure that the fishery was scored accurately in all areas. This strategy paid off. A revised report was delivered to the client group in May with three of the original seven conditions were eliminated. Scores were increased in 13 of the 31 performance indicators. Maine’s lobster fishery has passed the critical MSC assessment with only four conditions, and none of the remaining conditions pertain directly to harvesters. Two conditions concern the availability of data on the fishery’s impact on habitat and the other two conditions concern a lack of explicit long-term goals consistent with a precautionary approach. In other words, the fishery can attain MSC certification without any change to fishing practices. The client group is working to eliminate the habitat conditions and is developing an action plan to meet the management conditions. As chair of the client group, John Hathaway has repeatedly stated that the costs of certification will be covered by the client group. MSC will not impose a cost to either harvesters or taxpayers. A series of meetings with industry will be held in late August, when members of the client group will describe the potential benefits and implications of moving forward with the MSC process and seek industry feedback. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact John Hathaway, chair of "The Fund for Sustainable Maine Lobster" at

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