New Report Shows Increasing Momentum Behind Sustainable Seafood

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), responsible for the world’s leading sustainable seafood ecolabel and certification programme, has today published a report showing continued growth in the demand for and supply of sustainable seafood. 

In details outlined in its annual report, Working together for thriving oceans, the MSC points to an increasing global momentum in efforts to safeguard marine ecosystems and seafood supplies. Sales of seafood with the blue MSC label have reached one million tonnes per year for the first time, supported by an increase in MSC certified seafood catch of 34% over the past five years/.

“Our oceans are being pushed to crisis point,” says Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC, “And yet this feels like a time for optimism – and a time for change. We are seeing increasing political and corporate commitment, backed by unprecedented consumer concern for our oceans. The MSC is determined to be part of the solution by working with partners across the fishing, retail, science and conservation communities.”

Today, 15% of global marine catch** is certified to the MSC’s globally recognised standard for sustainable fishing, compared with 10% in 2014. The MSC’s report identifies several catalysts helping to drive this change:

Growing consumer demand for and availability of sustainable seafood choices

According to research commissioned by the MSC, 83% of seafood consumers globally agree that we need to protect the oceans for future generations***. Shoppers now spend close to US$10 billion per year on MSC labelled seafood. While sales remain highest in Northern Europe, in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in particular, the MSC is also seeing rapid growth in sales of MSC labelled seafood in Italy, China and Japan. With this growth and marketing initiatives by the MSC and its partners, understanding of the MSC label has increased from 32% in 2016 to 37% in 2018***.

Fisheries responding

Globally, fisheries are responding to increased demand for certified seafood and the need to protect our oceans. The MSC continues to see growth in the number of certified sustainable fisheries from 216 in 2014 to 361 in 2019. These fisheries are located in 41 countries, compared with 36 in 2014. With this growth, MSC certified catch has reached 11.8 million tonnes per year, compared to 8.8 million tonnes in 2014. The last year has seen significant growth in the certification of certain species. 22% of the global tuna catch is now MSC certified, compared with 19% in 2017, along with 62% of whitefish, compared with 52% in 2017.

Political and business coalition around Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The United Nations’ SDG 14 on life below the water has been instrumental in galvanising government and business commitments. MSC certification is now used by countries and organisations as an integral part of their voluntary commitments towards delivering SDG 14. This includes 27 members of the MSC’s Leaders for a Living Ocean initiative along with companies such as Orkla Health, Aldi and Shangri-La who have stepped up their commitments to providing sustainable products with the MSC label.

Increasing efforts in the Global South

With over half the world’s seafood coming from the Global South, sustainable fishing in these regions is essential to safeguarding seafood supplies worldwide. The MSC is increasing efforts and capacity in the Global South, along with its partner’s commitments to Fisheries Improvement Projects. This work is starting to bear fruit, with the number of MSC certified fisheries in the Global South more than doubling in the last two years (from 59 in 2017 to 124 in 2019). Initiatives such as the Fish for Good project in Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa, funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, are supporting fisheries by identifying areas for improvement and providing toolkits to put them on a pathway to sustainability.

The MSC has set a bold target for fisheries representing 30% of global marine catch engaged in its programme by 2030. This ambitious commitment reflects the urgency of delivering SDG14 and the mounting pressure on our oceans. It can only be achieved through broad commitments and leadership from organisations across the fishing, retail, government, conservation and science communities.

“Everyone involved in supporting sustainable seafood should be very proud of what has been achieved over the last two decades,”says Howes.“Our report shows a growing momentum behind sustainable seafood which is helping to safeguard our oceans and seafood supplies for future generations. But the global challenge of ending overfishing is profound. Climate change is increasing the urgency for meaningful collaboration across political and geographical borders. Well managed, sustainable fisheries protect our oceans and are more resilient to the impacts of climate change. 

“While a lot has already been achieved, what happens next is even more important. We all need to step up to deliver the change our oceans urgently need.”

Supporting facts: The need for sustainable fishing

  • Last year’s State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) laid bare the urgency of the issue. A third of the world’s fisheries have now been exploited beyond sustainable limits – up from a tenth in 1974.
  • Every day, our planet has 200,000 new people to feed. Seafood is a highly nutritious, renewable, low-carbon food source – but only if it’s managed sustainably.
    Since 1961 the annual global growth in fish consumption has been twice as high as population growth.
  • Overfishing devastates marine ecosystems and threatens the food security and livelihoods of millions of people. Reduced ocean productivity also carries huge economic costs – the UN estimates that losses could reach tens of billions of dollars each year if current trends aren’t halted.


* MSC certified seafood catch totalled 8.8 million tonnes in 2014, compared with 11.8 million tonnes in 2019.
** Total MSC certified catch in 2019 compared with total marine catch in 2016 according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
*** According to a consumer perceptions study by GlobeScan of 25,000 people in 22 markets between 12 January and 10 March 2018.