According to a new report, over 17% of the world’s wild marine catch is now MSC certified; but consumers, brands and retailers must all help to accelerate the pace of change.
“COVID-19 has turned the world upside-down, but this dreadful crisis is also an opportunity — a once-in-a-century chance for humanity to reboot, to reappraise what we really value, and to shift our economies onto a sustainable and more equitable footing,” says MSC CEO Rupert Howes. “We need to apply that same commitment to the other big challenges facing us — including the existential threat of climate change; and the need to provide food and sustainable livelihoods for a growing global population, while restoring the health of the planet that all of us depend upon. Ensuring thriving oceans for future generations is an essential component of this.”
The Marine Stewardship Council is an environmental not-for-profit that sets a global standard for sustainable fishing. By the end of March 2020, more than 400 fisheries were engaged in its sustainable seafood certification programme, representing more than 17 percent of the world’s wild marine catch. With 2 million tonnes more fish caught in these fisheries than in the previous year, the number of MSC-labelled seafood product lines is growing; as is the number of businesses involved in producing, processing and sourcing these products.
Companies, consumers and the choices they make clearly have a vital part to play in driving the changes needed to stop overfishing and safeguard seafood supplies for future generations. The number of MSC-labelled product lines stocked by supermarkets and brands around the world is now double what it was five years ago; and for the first-time, sales of MSC-labelled products this year passed the $10 billion mark. The MSC credits the vision of its partners for this — the retailers and brands, whose purchasing decisions and public commitments send a message down the supply chain, as well as to the fisheries who are changing their practises to meet MSC’s sustainability standard. The growth of the eco-conscious seafood consumer is also something the MSC has been tracking in the largest seafood consumer trends survey in the world. Carried out every two years by independent global market research firm GlobeScan, this year’s survey covered consumers in 23 countries. It showed that sustainability is now ranking higher than price in the motivators that seafood consumers say are important to them, making it the main purchase motivator after quality issues (freshness, safety, health, taste).
Will ethically motivated companies and consumers abandon their principles, though — if a pandemic-fuelled recession makes us all focus less on how the canned tuna and fish sticks we rely on were caught, and more on what they cost?
“Our latest consumer trends survey was carried out just before the pandemic, but all the signs we are seeing suggest that these trends will continue as people reflect on what matters to them and place greater emphasis on health and wellbeing,” Howes says.
The MSC’s view is that the threat to the oceans is huge, but change is possible. A UN report released earlier this year showed that more than one in three of the world’s fish stocks are now overfished, meaning that fish are being caught at levels that make it hard for them to replenish. This is part of an ongoing trend; the level of overfished stocks has increased since the UN last reported on figures two years ago and is now at its highest level. Just last month, another UN report set out damning evidence that none of the global targets set 10 years ago to protect the world’s biodiversity had been fully met.
But beneath the headlines, there were encouraging signs that progress is being made towards the sustainable management and harvesting of fish on a global level, and that sustainable fishing also supports the biodiversity of the wider ocean. But the change clearly needs to happen faster, to meet the scale of the challenges.
It is not just MSC that is calling for progress to speed up. NGOs, governments and businesses are saying so, too: 2020 was slated to be a year for ocean action, and 2021 marks the start of the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
“The coming decade will be pivotal,” Howes says. “We have a route map agreed by 193 nations to fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030; including Goal 14: Life Below Water — which calls on us all to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Let us use this opportunity to redouble our efforts and deliver.”
To read more about the progress reported by the MSC, please visit msc.org/annualreport.