What does MSC certified actually mean?

What does MSC certified actually mean?

You hear us harping on about it the whole time. That little blue fish symbol on our menus and our Online Seafood Market. But what actually is it? If you go to the supermarket every food item now is plastered in strange symbols and accreditations, every bottle of ketchup is a gold star winner, every pint of milk is Red Tractor triple organic, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all just a crock of self-congratulatory marketing hufflepuff.

We can’t speak for the milk, or the ketchup. But we do know that Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification is the gold standard when it comes to seafood. In short, the MSC is an internationally recognised not-for-profit auditing body that analyses fisheries based on how sustainable they are.


To get technical, a fishery is defined as an area where fish are caught for money. This can either be an area of the sea – like the Devon and Severn fishery, which is one of the UK’s inshore fisheries - or a collection of fishing boats that have been agreed upon by countries and fishers. You often have different fisheries for each fish – take for example Icelandic Haddock, or the Northern Bonito Tuna fishery.

To become certified by the MSC a fishery must be assessed by the MSC Fisheries Standard. Which is a high-council of learned scientists, conservationists, and fishing industry buffs.

Those proud blue-fish badge wearing fisheries comply with three fundamental principles.

- Healthy fishing stocks: meaning fish population is continually monitored, so that they are not driven to extinction.

- Good management systems: basically, good policing.

- Minimised impact on other species and the wider ecosystem: which looks at the wider ecosystem as a whole and reviews the damage caused by fishing.

    Individual boats cannot be MSC certified. Instead, the badge applies to fishing operations – using a specific fishing method, in a specific area, targeting a specific species. Any deviation from this means no blue badge.


    The MSC is very strict that certain fisheries are simply too destructive to even apply for sustainable recognition.

    These include those that:

    - Target amphibians, reptiles, birds or mammals.

    - Use devastating fishing practices like poisons or explosives.

    - Have been convicted of labour violations.

    - Have been convicted of shark finning violations.

      What’s great about the MSC is that they require fisheries to undergo an audit every year, meanwhile the privilege of wearing the blue badge lasts only five years, after that the fishery must reapply.

      What’s more is that the MSC actually invites external experts to comment on their fishery certification process itself. Reviewing their own standards so that they remain consistent with the most up-to-date research and guidelines.


      It’s true that the MSC has faced backlash over the years. What international organisation hasn’t? Possibly at the heart of all criticism is that the MSC does not exist just to protect the environment. Instead, it endeavours to protect the 500 million livelihoods that depend on the global seafood industry.

      What the MSC does well is traceability. Rather than operating from some ideologically motivated ivory tower, the MSC get their hands fishy mixing scientists with industry professionals to try and create solutions that should ensure that there is fish in our oceans for generations to come.

      Nice as it would be, there are no magic beans we can rub together to give us the answers to what fish are sustainable to eat and how they should be caught in a way that doesn’t financially cripple the lives of millions. This comes through dogged hard work across the industry and in-depth data analysis. The MSC blue badge gives us as fish consumers the confidence that this work has been done for us, allowing us to celebrate the wonderful fish that we eat.

      Buy MSC certified seafood from our Online Seafood Market and browse our favourite MSC seafood recipes.