Assessing Fisheries Management - Market Incentives Case Study
A key example where performance standards are being practically applied to assess salmon fisheries and improve the management of salmon populations is in the fisheries certification and ecolabeling arena. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) provides a useful case study for this application.
MSC operates a certification and ecolabel program based on what it believes to be a scientifically robust standard for assessing whether wild-capture fisheries are ecologically sustainable and well-managed. Fisheries can voluntarily choose to be assessed against this standard by independent third-party certifiers, and if their performance passes a minimum threshold level then the fisheries are allowed to use the MSC ecolabel and make claims in the marketplace about being sustainably managed. Since many seafood retailers are now requiring fisheries to meet such performance standards as part of their sourcing policies, the value of certification (e.g., market access, competitive sourcing advantages and in some cases price premiums) creates important incentives for fisheries to become certified.
In the case of salmon, the application of MSC standard has been evolving since the Alaska salmon fishery first became MSC certified in 2000, both through refinements by individual certifiers and through direct efforts by MSC to provide clarified salmon fishery assessment requirements and guidance to certifiers. As a result the performance indicators and scoring criteria used to assess salmon fisheries under the MSC scheme are similar with the performance standards outlined in this toolkit.
The outcomes from applying these standards in an eco-certification program are notable. For instance, important conditions of certification are leading to significant improvements for those salmon fisheries that have been certified under the MSC program, in fisheries from the Russian Far East to British Columbia. In addition, some fisheries that aren’t yet able to pass an MSC assessment have developed fishery improvement plans so they can make the necessary changes to become certified. State of the Salmon maintains a tool called Visual MSC that tracks the assessments for individual salmon fisheries in the MSC program.
While this case study is specific to eco-certification, the approach could be used for assessing fisheries in a variety of contexts. For instance, watershed groups might wish to evaluate how well fisheries management strategies are aligning with habitat protection and restoration strategies. Fishery managers might consider using such a tool to identify priority management issues and opportunities, with the gap between desired and actual performance providing the basis for developing specific action plans.