The momentum behind the sustainable seafood movement continues to grow, according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the international not for profit responsible for the world’s most widely used sustainable seafood ecolabel. Despite disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers bought record numbers of products with the blue MSC label in 2020-21.
The new figures released today as part of the MSC’s annual report show that the volume of independently certified sustainable seafood sold with the MSC label increased nearly 6% between April 2020 and March 2021. In total 1,267,000 tonnes of MSC labelled seafood were sold globally, compared with 1,197,000 tonnes the year before.
Types of seafood popular during Covid-19 lockdowns saw some of the biggest rises. Sales of frozen seafood products with the MSC label grew by 26% - the largest increase overall. While sales of MSC labelled 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 in particular 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. The report shows that despite massive disruptions to their operations, more fisheries and supply chain organisations became certified to catch and handle MSC certified seafood in 2020-21. 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. Worldwide, these organisations now operate in more than 46,200 sites.
Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council, said: “The growth of the MSC’s program against the backdrop of the pandemic is a sign of the strength of the sustainable seafood movement. Despite the unprecedented challenges, 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.
“But the challenges are growing. Too many governments continue to put short-term interests before sustainability. And globally the level of overfishing continues to rise. Institutional inertia is out of step with growing public activism around the oceans. The pandemic has heightened awareness of the need to protect our valuable natural resources. We’re calling on governments to seize this moment as an opportunity to support sustainable fisheries and seafood businesses by committing to measures that safeguard our fish stocks.”
Despite the progress presented in the report, the MSC stresses that urgent action is still required to overcome the challenges facing the oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report revealed that overfishing continues to rise, with more than a third (34%) of the world’s fish stock now overfished.
The MSC’s report highlights that governments failed to reach agreement on ending harmful fishing subsidies, one of the major drivers of overfishing and have so far failed to reach agreements on quotas for mackerel, herring and blue whiting in the North East Atlantic. The future sustainability of global tuna stocks is also in jeopardy if international commissions responsible for managing tuna fail to set robust harvest strategies. The MSC is calling for urgent action to address these challenges.