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Behavior Change
MSC Report Shows Sustainable Tuna Success as Global Demand Soars

As demand for canned tuna soars during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marine Stewardship Council urges consumers to continue to choose sustainably.

Sales of certified sustainable tuna globally have more than doubled in the last five years, according to a new report published today by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  

More than 54,000 tonnes of tuna were sold with the globally recognised blue MSC label in 2018/19, compared with 21,500 tonnes in 2015/16. The figures for 2019/20 are expected to be even higher1. UK sales of MSC-certified tuna products account for 11 percent of total sales. 

As demand for canned tuna continues to soar around the world, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic*, the MSC is urging both producers and consumers to continue their commitment to sustainable tuna. Published to mark World Tuna Day tomorrow (2 May), the MSC’s Tuna Handbook provides a comprehensive guide to sourcing sustainable tuna. 

“Although tuna is one of the world’s most widely consumed and popular fish, the reality is that around a third of tuna stocks remain in a fragile state,” says Bill Holden, MSC’s global tuna expert. “But the good news is that, even in these difficult times, consumers can continue to make a difference by choosing sustainably sourced seafood. By buying tuna with the blue MSC label, shoppers are playing their part in ensuring tuna stocks are secured for future generations.” 

Shifts in global tuna production 

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According to the Pew Research Center, four species of tuna — bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack — account for at least $42 billion of the $150 billion annual global seafood trade, support millions of jobs, and help ensure food security for some 3 billion people. Conservation groups fought for years to institute catch limits on overfished tuna stocks around the world, but the tide has finally seemed to turn in the past few years — with growing commitments and partnerships aimed at ending illegal fishing, such as the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, launched in 2017. Now, MSC says that 65 percent of tuna stocks globally are considered to be in a healthy state, with 17.5 percent overfished and a further 17.5 percent at an intermediate level.

The rapid increase in global sales of MSC-labelled sustainable tuna is the result of transformations within the fishing sector. The volume of tuna caught to the MSC’s global standard for sustainable fishing more than doubled from 700,000 tonnes in 2014 to 1.4 million tonnes (28 percent of global tuna catch) in September 2019. There are now 30 MSC-certified tuna fisheries, compared with just 8 in September 2014. 

Driven by increasing retailer and consumer demand, more than 200 companies now trade MSC-certified sustainable tuna sold in 41 countries — including some of the world’s largest tuna brands, such as Petit Navire, Chicken of the Sea, John West and Genova (owned by Thai Union); Rio Mare (owned by Bolton Food), and Bumble Bee (owned by Taiwanese fishing giant FCF). In the UK, supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and M&S have led the way and are selling the majority of MSC-labelled tuna.  

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* The surge in demand for canned tuna as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has been reported around the world including in in the UKItaly,  Germany and SpainGoogle searches for canned tuna are up 50% compared to April 2019, with a 300% year-on-year rise in queries relating to ‘what to do with canned tuna.’