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Interactions between International Law and Private Fisheries Certification

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 August 2017

Markos Karavias*
Amsterdam Center for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Email:


The management of fisheries at the international level is no longer the exclusive preserve of states and international organizations. The proliferation of private certification initiatives – the reach of which defies territorial boundaries – has heralded an era of transnational fisheries governance. Whereas the interactions between private standards and national regulation have attracted scholarly attention, the function of international law in the context of transnational fisheries governance is largely unexplored. This article maps the interactions between international fisheries law and the most prominent among private certification standards, namely the Marine Stewardship Council Fisheries Standard and Guidance (MSC FSG). The article proposes a methodology to assess such interactions at the stage of norm development and argues that the interactions between the two regimes are multidirectional and complex. International law serves as a model for private standard setting and as a yardstick for private decision making. Conversely, the MSC FSG has acted as a model for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Ecolabelling Guidelines. Moreover, the MSC FSG may constitute a benchmark for resolutions adopted by regional fisheries management organizations. The MSC FSG, in incorporating international fisheries law, affirms the latter’s resilience as a global point of reference for the management of fisheries globally. Yet, at the same time, by prompting states to comply with their international obligations in order to secure market access for their fishing industry, the MSC FSG may be exposing the inability of international law to generate compliance autonomously.

© Cambridge University Press 2017 

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Research for this article was conducted within the framework of the Research Programme ‘Smart Mixes in Relation to Transboundary Environmental Harm’, funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The author would like to thank all members of the Programme, and especially Programme leaders André Nollkaemper and Michael Faure. All errors remain mine.


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2 Ibid., p. 4.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., p. 5.

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23 The fishery or Unit of Assessment (UoA) is defined as a target species captured using a specific fishing method in a geographical area.

24 The supply chain certification, which follows up on the fishery certification, is governed by the ‘MSC Chain of Custody Standard: Default Version’, Version 4.0, 20 Feb. 2015, available at:

26 Ibid., p. 6.

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