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Behavior Change
Healthy People, Healthy Ocean:
How Conscious Consumers Are Helping Build a More Sustainable Seafood Sector

Recent research shows that people’s awareness of the link between their personal wellness and that of the environment has increased. How can simple solutions make a big impact? When it comes to food, we need to make it easy for people to make smart, sustainable choices.

If I were to walk into your kitchen today, chances are I might find some frozen fish in your freezer or canned seafood in your pantry. Was fish regularly on your grocery list pre-pandemic, or are you among the many US shoppers who have been buying more seafood during the pandemic? Food retailers reported impressive growth in sales in fresh and frozen seafood in 2020 compared to years past, signaling that consumers may be getting a little more adventurous in the kitchen and making seafood a regular part of their cooking rotation. This is good news - we all know seafood is a healthy protein and an essential part of a balanced diet. In fact, the new Dietary Guidelines of America recommend eating seafood at least two times per week.

There is another element to this uptick in seafood sales — consumers are turning to seafood to reduce their red-meat consumption for both health and environmental reasons. According to a 2020 survey by leading research firm GlobeScan, people’s concerns about wellness and the natural environment have increased; they understand how intricately their health is connected to the health of the planet. As a result, people are asking more questions about where products are coming from and if they were responsibly sourced, knowing that their purchases have a direct impact on the environment.

This change in behavior is especially true for younger generations: 70 percent of Gen Zers and 66 percent of Millennials are consistently more eager to make a significant effort to become healthier and more environmentally friendly. But some of these changes come at a cost: effort. The same study found that people are more likely to alter behaviors or adopt new ones if they are perceived as relatively easy to do.

How, in the face of climate change and other ecological disasters, can simple solutions make a big impact? When it comes to food, we need to make it easy for people to make smart, sustainable choices. Environmental labels on packaging are one way that companies can help consumers navigate sustainable purchasing and shop their values. Over half of US seafood consumers report that ecolabels on fish and seafood products raise their confidence and trust in the brand. MSC brand and retail partners have made good on consumer desires by sharing the origin story of products online, and through clear and simple point-of-sale messaging.

For seafood, sustainability means effective fisheries management, healthy seafood stocks, and minimizing damage to ocean ecosystems. It means traceable, transparent supply chains. In the last 30 years, as the global population has increased, global seafood consumption has risen by 122 percent — putting intense pressure on seafood stocks. Recent calculations show that if the world’s fisheries had been better managed in that timeframe, 16 million more tons of seafood could have been harvested every year, helping to feed a growing population and placing less pressure on fish stocks. Based on dietary guidelines, that amounts to being able to roughly feed the equivalent of the populations of Florida, Texas and New York, combined.

We’ve seen how effective fisheries management is helping stocks and ecosystems to recover. It helped transform Patagonian toothfish — also known as Chilean Seabass — from a fishery rife with illegal fishing in the ‘90s to being certified sustainable within a 10-year period, aided by the leadership of Whole Foods Market and its marketing efforts. After years of improvements and setting a positive example, the fish population returned to healthy levels, illegal fishing efforts dropped off, and consumers and high-end chefs put the fish back on menus — rewarding the now-sustainable fishery. Responsible, sustainable fishing could help safeguard the number of fish that could be harvested in perpetuity; and can ensure seafood is on people’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates for generations to come.

This is where conscious food consumers can play a big role. Shoppers are becoming more discerning about product claims and hungry for information on seafood sustainability. They want environmental claims to be backed up and have third-party validation to reassure them that they’re making a good purchase decision. They want transparency and traceability.

If we’re going to meet the seafood-two-times-a-week recommendation, we’re going to have to do it in a way that doesn’t continue to put pressure on fish stocks. Seafood companies are opting to put the MSC blue fish logo on their products to provide assurance to shoppers that the product has third-party certification, comes from a sustainable source, and is traceable along the supply chain — including companies such as Walmart, which committed to 100 percent MSC-certified tuna for its private-label brand; or Conagra, whose brands Van de Kamp's and Mrs. Paul's frozen fish fillets and fish sticks carry the MSC blue fish label.

Healthy and sustainable living doesn’t need to be complicated; in fact, we know from GlobeScan’s research that messaging about sustainability commitments and simplicity of actions is key for people to make lasting behavior changes. Simple swaps — such as choosing MSC-certified seafood — when stocking their freezers and pantries will help people meet their seafood nutrition goals, well as help them leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

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