Sustainable seafood sales hit record high as buyers cook at home in 2020-2021
Momentum behind the sustainable seafood movement continues to grow, according to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the international non-profit organization responsible for the world’s most widely used sustainable seafood eco-label . Despite the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers purchased a record number of products bearing the MSC blue label in 2020-21.
New figures released today as part of the MSC Annual Report show that the volume of independently certified sustainable seafood sold with the MSC label increased by almost 6% between April 2020 and March 2021. In total, 1 267,000 tonnes of MSC-labeled seafood were sold worldwide, compared to 1,197,000 tonnes the previous year.
The types of seafood popular during Covid-19 shutdowns have seen some of the biggest increases. Sales of frozen seafood bearing the MSC label increased 26%, the largest increase overall. While sales of MSC-labeled canned fish increased by nearly 4% globally, in part due to a 50% year-over-year increase in sales of MSC-labeled tuna products, putting global sales on track to reach 110,000 tonnes per year.
These increases are driven by growing consumer awareness of the need to protect our oceans, coupled with changes in shopping habits during the pandemic and growing sustainability commitments from fruit brands. The United States in particular saw a 54% increase in sales of sustainable MSC-labeled seafood products thanks to growing commitments from brands and retailers, including Walmart.
The increase in the availability and sales of sustainable seafood has been supported by the growth in supply. The report shows that despite massive disruptions to their operations, more and more fisheries and supply chain organizations have been certified to catch and handle MSC certified seafood in 2020-2021. The number of MSC certified fisheries has grown to 421, now collectively responsible for 14% of all wild marine catches. The year also saw a 5% increase in the number of organizations, such as supermarkets, restaurants, processors, distributors and warehouses, certified to handle, process and package MSC certified seafood. Globally, these organizations now operate in more than 46,200 locations.
Rupert Howes, Managing Director of the Marine Stewardship Council, said: “The growth of the MSC program in the context of the pandemic is a sign of the strength of the sustainable seafood movement. Despite the unprecedented challenges, more and more fisheries are certified according to the MSC Fisheries Standard, more brands are making bold commitments and more and more consumers continue to buy fish from sustainable sources.
“But the challenges are increasing. Too many governments continue to put short-term interests ahead of 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 precious natural resources. We call on governments to seize this moment as an opportunity to support sustainable fishing and seafood businesses by committing to take action that protects our fish stocks.
Despite the progress presented in the report, the MSC stresses that urgent action is still needed to overcome the challenges facing the oceans. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture Report 2020 found that overfishing continues to increase, with more than a third (34%) of fish stocks around the world are now overexploited.
The MSC report highlights that governments have failed to reach agreement on ending harmful fisheries subsidies, a major driver of overfishing, and have so far failed to reach agreement on the quotas of mackerel, herring and blue whiting in the North-East Atlantic. The future sustainability of global tuna stocks is also threatened if international tuna management commissions fail to define sound harvest strategies. The MSC calls for urgent action to address these challenges.
Read MSC’s 2020-21 Annual Report, Recognizing and Rewarding Sustainable Fisheries.