Economic impacts of MSC certification for fishers – Cornish hake and sardines

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A new report from NEF Consulting for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) shows that Cornish hake has seen higher prices linked to MSC certification. Both Cornish hake and sardines have noted an improved reputation and better access to markets as a result.

NEF Consulting analysed changes to the price of first sale landings, both before and after certification for the two MSC certified fisheries in Cornwall and compared these to control groups. A social survey comprising interviews with fishers, wholesalers, vessel owners, producer organisations and management bodies, involved in the hake and sardine fisheries in Cornwall, gathered responses on a range of other socio-economic impacts associated with certification.

The study compared the Cornish hake gillnet fishery, managed by the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) and first became MSC certified in 2015, to Scottish hake, which subsequently gained its MSC certification in 2018. The price of sardines was also investigated, comparing the MSC-certified Cornish fishery with non-MSC certified Dutch-landed sardines. Cornish sardines remain the only fishery of the Sardina pilchardus species that carries the MSC blue label currently.

Between 2012 and 2015, Cornish and Scottish hake fisheries had similar prices per kilogram. At the time of certification, the average price of Cornish hake was 75% of that received by Scottish vessels. By the end of 2018, the price of Cornish hake was 138% of that at the non-certified Scottish hake fishery, suggesting a marked increase in quayside prices since certification. Over the same period, the price of sardines fluctuated greatly, both in the MSC-certified Cornish fishery as well as for the Dutch-landed control group, meaning no price premium as a result of MSC was attributable.

Four out of five of those interviewed said they were satisfied with the benefits they were experiencing as a result of the MSC certification of Cornish hake. All interviewees agreed that prices had increased, market access had improved, and the reputation of the fishery had been boosted.

While the case of Cornish sardines was less conclusive, the survey showed that MSC certification had brought positive benefits, with most participants citing improved market access and reputational benefits to the sardine fleet. All stakeholders interviewed at both the sardine and hake fisheries in Cornwall thought that the benefits of certification outweighed the costs associated with the assessment process. 

George Clark, MSC Senior Commercial Manager, UK & Ireland, said:

“We see products from these two fisheries being sold with the MSC blue label…but have not until now quantified the effect of this all the way back to the fishery itself. It’s encouraging to see evidence of a potential price premium, in the case of hake, and strong evidence of improved market access and reputational gain resulting from certification for both fisheries.

These are iconic fisheries and examples of how MSC certification, supply chain support for certified product, investment and good management can create socio-economic benefits for coastal communities. We’re now able to demonstrate the impact that this can have with respect to catch value, jobs and reputation; which I think is a great success story for these two fisheries.”

William Davies, NEF Consulting, added:

“Using different data to explore the research question was a particularly interesting aspect of this study. The use of sea fisheries data combined with survey interviews of stakeholders at a fishery level provided interesting insights into the various ways MSC certification has socioeconomic impact.”


Read a summary of the research here

Download the full report here

For more information about MSC and this study click here