MSC has researched what matters most to seafood lovers, and how to engage consumers and producers on the benefits of sustainable seafood. We caught up with Senior PR Manager Jackie Marks to find out how MSC is getting that message out.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) works with fisheries, scientists and the seafood industry to make sure our oceans are fished sustainably; and to help consumers to find and buy certified sustainable seafood. They are also committed to working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — in particular, SDG 14, which is all about taking care of Life Below Water. To this end, MSC has undertaken research with GlobeScan to find out what matters most to seafood lovers, and how they can assure consumers that eating sustainable seafood can benefit them and the environment.
We caught up with Jackie Marks, MSC’s Senior PR Manager, US, to find out how MSC is getting that message out to consumers and producers.
Consumers are more aware than ever of the impact their food choices can have on the environment. What are the key concerns you have identified among seafood consumers?
Jackie Marks: We know that consumers are savvier than ever, and they want information to support their choices when it comes to purchasing products at the store. One of their top concerns in relation to the environment is pollution of the oceans followed by overfishing concerns. Consumers want to do the right thing. Our research showed that 81 percent of seafood consumers in North America say we need to protect supplies for future generations.
But some issues are more prominent than others when it comes to purchasing and eating seafood. Sustainability is about halfway down their list. Things like whether it is safe to eat, fresh, tastes good, is it good for me and my family, and price still rank above sustainability when it comes to buying seafood.
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So, we are learning that there is still a divide between what people say and what they actually do when it comes to purchasing seafood. Trying to bridge that gap between intent and action is where we try to come in and engage consumers about why it's important to make environmentally sustainable choices.
An important part of the work of the MSC is to promote the message that seafood can be good for the consumer and good for the oceans. We are trying to help them make that connection when they see the MSC blue fish logo on products.
We have also learned that people want to be able to trust what they are buying. They want to see independence of the claims that companies are making. It’s not enough for the company to say — yes, we are doing the right things; or yes, we are sustainable. They want to get that third-party verification that companies are actually doing what they say they are doing.
What can MSC do to address these concerns and achieve the targets set out in SDG 14?
JM: The Sustainable Development Goals are so important because they are a benchmark for us to work towards — not just for the MSC, but for the industry. MSC’s work to protect seafood for future generations is embedded in SDG 14: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. And of course, making sure that fishing is done in a sustainable manner also helps to achieve other sustainable goals. For example, protecting fish stocks for future generations so that they are able to reproduce and repopulate supports SDG 2, which focuses on food security — because seafood is a healthy source of protein for people all over the world.
Sustainable seafood production also plays an important role in community livelihoods, so it relates to SDG 8 — which addresses economic growth and decent work conditions. Our work also links to SGD 12, which is Responsible Consumption and Production. An important tenet of our work is to make sure people know they can achieve a healthy lifestyle and a healthy ocean.
I would also say that partnerships are critical to being able to move forward. So, SDG 17 —addressing Partnerships for the Goals — is definitely something that is important to us.
Individual businesses can also play an important role. How do MSC-certified seafood companies address these issues?
JM: Seafood mislabeling or fish fraud is a serious issue. Over a third of seafood is incorrectly labelled as another species. MSC-certified seafood, however, has a mislabeling rate of less than 1 percent, because we offer assurance from when the fish is caught. This is why traceability is an essential part of the MSC program. With traceability, we’re offering assurance from when the fish was caught to when it reaches the consumer. If it has that MSC blue fish label on it, it can be traced back to a sustainable source. And that traceability is incredibly important, because it means that we are doing what we say we are doing. It means that we are fighting mislabeling and fish fraud, and it is an assurance along the entire supply chain that the company and the consumer can feel good about.
So, companies that have the MSC chain of custody certification are meeting all of those requirements. They are sourcing from an MSC-certified fishery and meeting our standards every step of the way along the supply chain. Companies like IKEA and Purina, [which] we are highlighting in our session at Seafood Expo North America next month, can assure customers that the seafood they are presenting to consumers meets all of those goals.
How can non-MSC companies be incentivized to work towards meeting MSC standards?
JM: I think the incentive for companies who aren’t currently certified would be to have that traceability and third-party validation. Again, this goes back to some of the research we did with GlobeScan: Having that third-party verification is what the consumer wants. The MSC validation processes are entirely done by a third-party auditor; and for consumers, that is a real tenet of the trust that they put in some of these companies. For companies to be able to reassure the consumer; and show them that everything along the supply chain is traceable, sustainable and independently verified, that is something that those companies who are not certified would benefit from.
Can you tell us more about what you are doing at the Seafood Expo?
JM: We will be holding a session at Seafood Expo in Boston on 16th March, called “Global sustainability megatrends: Does seafood measure up?”
It will feature IKEA and Purina talking about how they are working towards some of these sustainability goals, and how they engage consumers on these issues. We are really trying to have a conversation about how companies are achieving sustainability and how they are tackling some of the main issues found in GlobeScan’s Healthy and Sustainable Living report. That’s really the impetus for the session — we want to encourage people to have that discussion about what sustainability is and how they are addressing it through their businesses.
Although seafood consumers are concerned about sustainability issues, they don’t always act upon it — for example, due to sometimes additional costs. What can be done to bridge the gap between aspiration and action?
JM: I think part of the concern among consumers is simply not knowing how to address fish. They often think of seafood as a special meal that they should save for special occasions. Or they may be unsure how to cook it. We encourage people to eat more MSC-certified seafood because it is a win-win — is good for them and good for the oceans. Eating seafood can easily be done at every price point. It could be an MSC-certified can of tuna or fish sticks. It could be omega-3 supplements or a nice salmon filet. It’s not exclusive, and we don’t want it to be. We want people to know that it is definitely attainable to get more sustainable seafood in their diet, whatever their budget.