Building Resilience

Development of a new Social Standard for Fishing Vessels


RS Standards was the principal consultant in the development of a credible and robust fishing vessel standard that was designed to offer greater assurance that vessel safety and crew welfare standards were being adhered to on certified vessels. According to the FAO research over 24,000 fishers globally, lose their lives in the pursuit of wild capture fish, making it the most dangerous occupation in peacetime. In addition, reports on enforce crew slavery had been cited by the international press. In a world where greater assurance is required by the international supply chains these situations were wholly unaccepted and the 2020 Tuna declaration wanted some mandate by their signatories to address this situation by using external assessment as a means to mitigate these issues. Also, the ILO members created an international protocol convention 188 to address and stipulate guidance on what would be expected on board fishing vessels.



The Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) was a voluntary vessel-based assurance programme certifying high standards of crew welfare and responsible catching practices on board fishing vessels. RFS Version 1 was launched to the UK fleet in 2016 with the ambition to roll out internationally. To achieve this the RFS will be moving to a new home with Global Seafood Assurances (GSA) in May 2020.

GSA is a new not-for-profit organisation intended to offer full supply chain assurance for both wild and farmed seafood. This is to be achieved through representation of existing standards, management of new standards on behalf of different organisations, or development of new standards where gaps in assurance offerings are identified. RFS will be the first vessel-specific standard in the GSA portfolio.

A key priority during this transition period was the development of RFS Version 2. A new standard has been developed called the Responsible Fishing Vessel standard (RFVS) which will be capable of being used internationally. RS Standards as the key consultant for GSA guided the structure and content of new RFVS by using feedback received through consultation from all sectors of the supply chain through the development of bespoke technical working groups and an industry led oversight board.


A robust, collaborative and interactive process was driven by RS Standards to develop the RFVS to ensure the standard is fit for purpose and meets market needs. A new RFVS certification model was designed which was streamlined to enhance accessibility, and maximise the opportunity to scale up participation via the group certification model, whilst also enabling internationalisation of the Scheme.

Standard development best practice dictates that there are three main priorities that must always be considered. These are outlined below and were used by RS Standards as a guide throughout the development of RFVS:

  1. Accessibility – In order to reach more markets and provide access to a greater volume of RFVS-compliant seafood, it was paramount that the Standard was accessible, regardless of vessel size or geographic location.

  2. Credibility– The essence of the value proposition of the RFVS is the robustness of the standard criteria and assurance process. Known audit and integrity risks were identified and managed. Where needed, changes to the audit model were implemented to enhance the rigour. There was still a need to maintain third-party assurance and international credibility across the full certification model, to be accredited to ISO 17065. The RFVS was also designed to meet international benchmarking initiative requirements where applicable e.g. SSCI/GSSI

  3. Applicability – In order to ensure long-term relevance of the programme, the RFVS and assessment programme had to continue to meet the expectations of the supply chain. The RFVS was developed to respond proactively to any demand for changes in order to carefully maintain the balance between accessibility and credibility.

The Key Objective for the RFVS is:

The Responsible Fishing Vessel Standard enables fishing operations to provide assurance of decent working conditions and operational best practice from the catch to the quay.

Finally following nearly two years of process, the development of the RFVS under the guidance of RS Standards, this new standard has gone through three important steps ahead of its presentation to the Seafish and GSA Boards for sign off; firstly it was scrutinised by an independent Oversight Board and international experts around the world; secondly, consultation audits took place in the UK, the Faroe Islands, in Russia and in Peru, and finally, the draft went through a 60 day public consultation.

It has been a privilege to work with my fellow oversight board members through such a rigorous, open and transparent process. RFVS certification is a great way for proud skippers to demonstrate how they look after their crew and their catch, so a big thank you to Seafish and GSA for your leadership

commented Nigel Edwards, Group CSR Director, Hilton Food Group

RS Standards along with Seafish and GSA developed the first specialist auditor training course that took place in Scotland in February 2020 to upskill specialist auditors to the requirements of the RFVS. The next steps are the Vessel Certification Pilots. These have been arranged in Russia, the Faroes and in the UK with further pilots being planned in SE Asia and South America. The standard was then scheduled to be publicly released in May 2020.

Building a standard to help address crew welfare on fishing vessels around the world is an important first step in addressing a critical gap in seafood supply chain assurance” said Ally Dingwall, Aquaculture and Fisheries Manager at Sainsbury’s and GSA Board Member “We need to acknowledge those working to Best Practice and identify those not yet working at that level. We will learn more as we start using the standard which will help us collectively address the welfare of those crews catching our seafood, where necessary

Mike Platt

Lead Partner