Marine Stewardship Council slammed for ignoring shark, whale and dolphin abuse, says new report

A new investigation by Shark Guardian reveals that fishery observer reports of shark, ray, dolphin, and whale abuse on Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified vessels are still routinely ignored

Shark Guardian first exposed these negligent and illegal practices in the Western Central Pacific Ocean in May 2022, but a lack of meaningful investigation by the MSC demonstrates that its ‘Blue Tick’ seal of sustainability has ongoing systemic problems.

The new report ‘Behind the MSC Blue Tick’, is the result of an investigation into further unreleased fishery observer data, (2017-2021) obtained from whistleblowers.

The report identifies a total of 330 incidents of shark, ray, dolphin, and cetacean interaction that took place on MSC-certified vessels. In most of these cases, these species of special interest were mistreated. 47 out of these incidents occurred during MSC-eligible sets.


Brendon Sing, Co-Founder of Shark Guardian said,

“Way more needs to be done to ensure that those who consider themselves the arbiters of ocean sustainability are themselves held to the highest standard. If the MSC's seal of sustainability cannot be trusted, then what is the actual point? Enough is enough. The dirt we've uncovered with our two reports over the last twelve months deserves more than lip service from the MSC. They must stop using the service of rotten auditors."

A whale shark is caught and left inside the net struggling and distressed while the vessel prepares for the brailing process

This report exposes severely compromised management of MSC-certified fisheries in key areas, including:

  • MSC-certified vessels deliberately setting their nets around live whales, dolphins and whale sharks
  • MSC-certified vessels’ officers and crew using their auxiliary boats to try to scare a whale trapped inside a net into breaking free, instead of ceasing fishing operations and safely releasing the whale
  • Regular Illegal, Unlicenced and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the form of unreported fishing by MSC-certified vessels; discrepancies in reporting target and non-target bycatch species
  • High grading of catch by MSC-certified vessels
  • MSC-certified vessels engaged in FAD fishing during drifting FAD closure period
  • Interference in observer duty on MSC-certified vessels
  • Marine pollution on MSC-certified vessels
  • Mistreatment of vessel crew on MSC-certified vessels

In following up the industry response to their previous report, they found that Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), the independent auditors monitoring the MSC standard, failed to identify numerous issues raised by observers.

Alex Hofford, Shark Guardian’s Marine Wildlife Campaigner believes the MSC only cares about their bottom line. He said,

“We fail to understand how a CAB can assess any fishery against the MSC Fisheries Standard without observer reports being examined, even in the most cursory way. The MSC’s ‘business-as-usual’ attitude suggests they still approve ‘blue tick’ sustainability certificate requests from destructive fisheries, including fisheries that use indiscriminate and harmful drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs), which is unbelievable considering how unsustainable dFADs actually are.”

The MSC is supposed to guarantee that any fish sold with the ‘Blue Tick’ is genuinely sustainable. Shark Guardian is concerned that these findings continue to undermine its credibility.

“The MSC must urgently assert its influence to improve reporting practices and the enforcement of existing regulations. The arrogance and lack of rigour from the CABs is shocking. They should take observers’ reports much more seriously and act upon them. Instead, they seem to quietly put them aside.”

said Hofford.

Shark Guardian’s May 2022 report ‘Slipping Through the Net: Reported but Ignored’ exposed a seafood industry turning a blind eye to the significant and meticulous reporting efforts undertaken by its observers. Their ‘Behind the MSC Blue Tick’ report released today shows that little has changed.

Following their May 2022 report, Assurances Services International (ASI) launched an investigation and pledged to develop a new framework for auditing processes. Their investigation found three ‘minor nonconformities’ and three ‘opportunities for improvement’ for Acoura Limited (trading as Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), and one ‘minor nonconformity’ and two ‘opportunities for improvement’ for SCS Global. Both CABs were exposed in our last investigation, and without proper sanctions, ASI’s findings are effectively just a slap on the wrist for the CABs.

A great white shark

Brendon Sing said,

“We found that CABs failed to follow up on numerous problems reported by observers and made no attempt to interview whistle-blower observers. Without interviewing observers, who are the ‘eyes and ears’ of civil society on the ocean –the CABs have failed in their duty.”

The fact that fishery observer reports are routinely disregarded in the MSC’s sustainability certification process is reflected in the launch of three major ‘class action’ lawsuits by the United States consumers, including one against American retail giant Walmart for false claims of seafood sustainability. The MSC is implicated in this legal action, and their sustainability credentials are being questioned. US legal filings in Illinois and California reveal allegations that products labeled with the MSC’s ‘Blue Tick’ falsely indicate that those products have been sourced via sustainable fishing practices which do not harm marine wildlife.

The new report shows that the business-as-usual attitude by CABs and the MSC is not only harming nature but also the sustainable seafood movement. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), observer programmes, nation states, and the MSC, should all work together to ensure that valuable advances in the sustainable management of tuna fisheries are not compromised by negligence, non-compliance, and corruption.

Auditing practices and observer data flow must ensure that observer reports are not ignored. Without accurate reporting and reliable reporting procedures, buyers, stakeholders, and consumers have no guarantee that MSC-certified fish from tuna fisheries in the WCPFC is genuinely sustainable.