Marine Stewardship Council certification

Marine Stewardship CouncilYou can now get Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable seafood fresh, frozen and canned, from the UK and around the world.

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Chain of Custody is a process to ensure that products using the MSC ecolabel have come from an MSC certified fishery. If you wish to use the MSC logo in your business (on menus or websites for example) you will need to be certified to do so. The MSC Chain of Custody certification, and the blue ecolabel it allows you to use, are your independent assurance of seafood sustainability and can help you gain recognition for responsible sourcing and communicate this to your customers.

Sourcing MSC certified fish

The first step is to find a certified supply of fish. Speak with your current supplier about them getting MSC certification so they can supply you with MSC seafood, or opt for a supplier who already has their MSC Chain of Custody certificate – for example: M&J Seafood and Direct Seafoods in London. See the MSC website for up-to-date listings of certified suppliers.

What is Chain of Custody?

Chain of Custody, as the name suggests, works as a chain. Every link from the fishers to your customers is audited and certified to ensure the traceability of the fish. As the final link in the chain, your restaurant will need to be certified for Chain of Custody in order to display the MSC logo on your menus.

How do I get my restaurant certified?

Getting certified involves an audit of your business by an accredited certifier or auditor. You can find a list of accredited auditors on the MSC website. There are a number of different ways to get MSC certified – find the one that best suits your business.

Conventional assessment

In a conventional assessment a certifier will visit your restaurant to carry out the audit. This route to certification is open to all restaurants and is the most common way to get certified at present. We recommend asking two or three auditors from the list to quote for auditing your restaurant. The cost is mainly composed of the time the auditor spends (ask for their day rate) and their travel expenses, but consider their responsiveness, availability and other factors important to you. Costs may also depend on the number of restaurants being certified. Working together to schedule audits with several other local businesses can reduce costs by increasing the efficiency of the auditor’s time and sharing expenses like travel and accommodation.

Online assessment

The MSC is developing an online assessment process for independent restaurants. This is being trialled at the moment, if your restaurant is eligible, the online route may save you time and money.

Group assessment

If you are part of a group (e.g. a contract caterer with a number of sites or a restaurant chain) you can certify the whole group in one assessment. This can lead to substantial savings in the cost of Chain of Custody certification because not every site is audited. Again, we recommend asking two or three auditors from the list to quote for auditing your restaurants.

How long is the certificate valid?

The certificate lasts for 3 years. The auditor will carry out a surveillance audit (a ‘check-up’ audit), once per year for the certificate to remain valid.

Preparing for your audit

Once you have appointed an auditor you will need to prepare your systems and your staff for the auditor’s visit. The better prepared you are, the quicker and therefore the cheaper certification will be. The MSC has produced information packs and staff training materials you can adapt to suit your needs and a series of case studies to help you prepare for your audit based on the experience of others, these are available on the MSC website. The DVD MSC on the Menu, provides practical advice for restaurants interested in MSC certification and can be used for staff training.

Like any audit, the focus is on demonstrating how you ensure the rules of the Marine Stewardship Council's Chain of Custody are met. These need not be onerous and many kitchens find they have to make very few changes to the way they work in order to get certified. The auditors will be checking that you have systems in place to ensure you:

  1. Keep MSC fish separate from non-MSC fish.
  2. Clearly identify the MSC fish.
  3. Keep track of deliveries, wastage and sales of MSC fish.
  4. Make sure the MSC logo can only be applied to MSC fish.

Some of these steps can be very simple – such as ‘Clear, MSC-labelled gastros for MSC fish, metal gastros for non-MSC fish’. Others take a little more work but at their heart, are really about good housekeeping and good record-keeping.

You – and your auditor – need to know how much MSC fish is bought, sold and wasted. This is part of what MSC calls the mass balance. In short, the amount of fish you buy must balance with the amount of fish you sell or waste. Tracking wastage is not part of everyone’s systems but keeping good records of what you buy and what you waste is very important for Chain of Custody. You do not have to record every gram – in fact a group of London restaurants found that keeping a log of how many portions they sold (and an average weight per portion) worked well for keeping track.

The final part of the audit is about how you train your staff – both kitchen and front-of- house. As with the rest of the audit, there are training materials on the MSC website including a presentation that you can tailor to suit how your business, and your Chain of Custody, work. These will help you explain how Chain of Custody works, why MSC Chain of Custody is important and what it will mean for staff in their day-today duties.

And the logo?

Once you have been certified for Chain of Custody you will be eligible to sign a logo licence agreement with the MSC. As a charity, MSC relies on grant funding and a small royalty fee on the use of the logo. That fee is re-invested in ensuring that the traceability standard remains one of the best in the world – protecting your investment in your Chain of Custody certificate.

Throughout the process, MSC staff are available to provide advice and support. If you would like more information visit www.msc.org, or call 020 7246 8900.

Good Catch is a joint project of MCS, MSC, Seafood Choices and Sustain - helping chefs, restaurants and caterers navigate seafood sustainability.

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Original design by Joe Short