Consumer awareness of the need to protect oceans drives demand for sustainable seafood

UK – Consumer awareness of the need to protect oceans is driving demand for sustainable seafood sales, providing a new lifeline for marine ecosystems which have for a long-time suffered from unsustainable fishing practices. 

According to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a  total of 1,267,000 tonnes of MSC labeled seafood were sold globally between April 2020 and March 2021, a 6% rise when compared with 1,197,000 tonnes the year before. 

The international not-for-profit responsible for the world’s most widely used sustainable seafood ecolabel, frozen seafood products saw the highest overall increase in sales, with the MSC label growing by 26.  

Sales of MSC labeled canned fish rose by close to 4% globally, driven in part by a 50% year-on-year increase in sales of MSC labelled tuna products, putting global sales on course to reach 110,000 tonnes a year. 

 Driving these increases is a growing consumer awareness of the need to protect our oceans, coupled with changes in shopping habits during the pandemic and growing commitments to sustainability from seafood brands.  

The US, for example, saw a 54% increase in sales of MSC labelled sustainable seafood on the back of growing commitments from brands and retailers including Walmart. 

Increases in the availability and sales of sustainable seafood products have been supported by growth in supply as more fisheries and supply chain organisations became certified to catch and handle MSC certified seafood in 2020-21.  

In the year ending March 2021, the number of MSC certified fisheries increased to 421, now collectively responsible for 14% of all wild marine catch. 

 The year also saw a 5% increase in the number of organisations, such as supermarkets, restaurants, processors, distributors and warehouses, certified to handle, process and package MSC certified seafood. 

“The growth of the MSC’s program against the backdrop of the pandemic is a sign of the strength of the sustainable seafood movement,” said Michael Marriott, MSC Programme Manager for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.  

“More fisheries have become certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, more brands are making bold commitments and more consumers continue to buy sustainably sourced fish. 

Despite the progress presented in the report, the MSC stresses that urgent action is still required to overcome the challenges facing the oceans.  

 Marriot for instance highlighted the tendency of government and fishing organisations to put short-term interests before sustainability the continued rise of overfishing globally as some of the threats to marine ecosystems. 

Overall, despite the challenges, the rising demand for sustainable seafood presents a ray of hope that consumers can change the tide in seafood harvesting and force more governments and fishing organizations to adopt sustainable fishing practices or rising falling out of public favor.  

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