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Evaluating the socioeconomic impacts of MSC certification at fishery level

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) commissioned NEF Consulting to conduct a study to understand the potential socioeconomic impacts that occur as a result of MSC certification of fisheries. The scope of benefits in the study includes price premiums, price stability, increased sales, and improved market access, as well as job creation and security.

Capturing the extent to which certification contributes to these socioeconomic benefits can prove challenging beyond anecdotal observation. This study was commissioned to explore how to capture these potential socioeconomic benefits, and if these have been realised within two case studies of MSC-certified fisheries: Cornish hake and Cornish sardines.

The approach

Two methods were selected to gather data:


  • We used the Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO) annual sea fisheries data on landings weight and value to calculate quayside price per kilogram and then compared both hake and sardine fisheries with a control group of similar fisheries without MSC certification.
  • We visually examined price trends to observe any differences between the groups and applied the difference-in-difference (DiD) statistical technique. This analysis tool offered insights as to whether the intervention of MSC certification impacts any socioeconomic trends.


  • Using previous work by MSC, we developed questions around socioeconomic impact and incorporated these into a survey. The survey questions covered various socioeconomic impacts including fish prices, market access, reputation, job creation, and catches.
  • This enabled us to gain insight into the changes that stakeholders, such as fishers and wholesalers, experience and their perceptions of the benefits of MSC certification. The survey was undertaken by the Cornwall Rural Community Charity, contracted by the MSC.

Key findings for the landings data analysis

  • Landing volumes increased considerably for both hake and sardines, both MSC and non-MSC, over the period considered in this research.
  • Analysis of MMO data indicates a possible price premium for the hake fishery certified as MSC in Cornwall (2015), compared to the control group of Scottish hake fisheries (certified in July 2018).
  • The landings data analysis did not indicate that quayside sardine prices had increased because of MSC certification in Cornwall (2010).

Key findings for the survey interviews


  • All respondents noted an increase in hake price, an increase in market access, and an increase in reputation.
  • When asked if the benefits of certification outweigh the costs of becoming certified, 100% of respondents stated that the benefits of certification are much greater than the costs of becoming certified. Fishers also stated that certification and re-certification were expensive, but came with the benefits of good promotion.


  • Fishers stated that they had not noted any real change regarding price increase. Some described price decrease relative to 2006 price levels. However, processors appeared to have realised benefits resulting from marketing as MSC-certified.
  • Fishers noted other benefits, for example through implementing required scientific research or possibly price maintenance, as well as through maintaining market access. Of those interviewed, 73% said their reputation had improved or improved greatly. This was the dominant perceived benefit of MSC certification.
  • The fishers interviewed hope to maintain certification going forward. The benefits of MSC are not always tangible. Some interviews suggested that the Cornish Sardine Management Association (CSMA), who manage the fishery and own the MSC certificate, has had a bigger impact on their success than the MSC certification. The MSC process has facilitated new research and the organisation has promoted the fishery via MSC social media channels.


The findings from both these research strands point to various socioeconomic benefits arising from MSC certification and a potential price premium for the Cornish hake fishery.

The exploratory nature of this research entails certain limitations; findings are considered indicative and preliminary. Key limitations centre on the challenges of designating an effective control group and accounting for other external factors, as well as the limited sample size for survey responses.

The research helps lay the groundwork for further research, that can contribute to MSC’s understanding of how certification can affect socioeconomic outcomes for different participants in fisheries. Future studies should include more in-depth research into developing control groups to compare MSC-certified fisheries with similar non-certified fisheries.

Download the full report here

See a short report and other information about the MSC here.

Read commentary here.

New Economics Foundation

NEF aims to create a new economy that works for people and within environmental limits. We are guided by three missions:

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The democratic economy
To devolve state power and transform ownership of the economy to give everyone an equal stake in the places where we live and work.

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