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When you hear the term “certified sustainable”, you may wonder what it means, and how your purchase of MSC certified sustainable seafood contributes to a healthy planet.

MSC certified sustainable seafood is easy to identify in stores by looking for the blue fish label on packaging. When you see this label (pictured below) you are directly supporting sustainably managed fisheries working hard maintain healthy fish populations and the ecosystems they depend on. 

assortment of products with MSC blue fish label

Read More: What Does a Sustainably Managed Fishery Look Like?

Is Overfishing a Real Threat?

Overfishing is a global issue and the reason that the MSC and its ecolabel exist. More than a third of fish stocks are estimated to be fished at unsustainable levels.

Overfishing is driven by many factors that will worsen the health of our ocean if left unaddressed. The effects of overfishing are worsened by climate change, which is altering marine ecosystems and the habitats that fish depend on. In the North-East Atlantic, for example, mackerel stocks are moving northwards as sea temperatures rise.

Harmful fishing subsidies can also contribute to overfishing and are something the MSC believes must be eliminated.

Seafood is already among the most widely traded food commodities in the world and the demand for seafood is rising as the global population grows.

The MSC is working to end overfishing and incentivize people to produce and consume seafood sustainably.

Should I Stop Eating Seafood To Prevent Overfishing?

There are likely to be ten billion people on earth by 2050, and it is essential that we harness our precious marine resources sustainably. For millions of people in coastal communities around the world, giving up fishing is simply not an option.

If we manage our fish stocks sustainably, they can recover and thrive. Success stories include the recovery of Namibian hake and the Patagonian toothfish to healthy numbers through careful management. In fact, research shows that sustainably managed stocks of fish are more productive in the long term, allowing us to make the ocean healthier while also feeding the global community.


What Is Certified Sustainable Seafood?

Sustainable seafood comes from fisheries that catch fish in ways that ensure the long-term health of a stock or species and the wellbeing of the ocean.

We set out requirements for sustainability in the MSC Fisheries Standard. There are more than 400 wild-capture fisheries around the world certified to this standard. To become certified, these fisheries must comply with requirements across three principles:

  • only fishing healthy stocks, 
  • being well-managed so stocks can be fished for the long-term, and 
  • minimizing their impact on other species and the wider ecosystem.

Does MSC Certification Actually Help Fight Overfishing?

The MSC certification process is independent, verifiable, and based on science. MSC does not directly certify fisheries – fisheries achieve certification through an independent assessor following a rigorous assessment. There are multiple opportunities for NGOs and others to contribute to the process.

It can sometimes take years of hard work to improve before a fishery can become MSC certified. Even when a fishery gains certification, this is only the start of the journey.  Every year, assessors carry out surveillance reports to check on progress and re-assess fisheries every five years.

Under the Standard requirements, fisheries must improve continuously until they reach what we consider to be the best practice in sustainability. If fisheries do not make the required improvements within a specified time, they can have their certificates suspended until they reach the level of performance required by the MSC Standard. 

The fisheries that are MSC certified are often at the forefront of innovations and best practice globally.

How Do I Know if the Seafood I’m Buying Is Certified Sustainable?

The MSC blue fish label is only applied to wild fish or seafood products from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Standard. The MSC Chain of Custody Standard for supply chain businesses ensures MSC-certified fish and seafood is separated from that which is non-certified and is clearly labeled.

More than 7,000 businesses worldwide are MSC Chain of Custody certified, including over 48,000 sites from supermarkets and restaurants to processors, distributors, and warehouses. These businesses are audited on an annual basis and subject to unannounced audits, to ensure they are conforming to requirements on traceability, labeling, and separation. 

The MSC also sometimes commissions independent DNA tests on MSC labeled products to guard against fish fraud, ensuring MSC-certified seafood has not been substituted for a different – possibly endangered – species. Research published in the journal Current Biology shows that mislabeling rates on MSC labeled products are less than 1% - significantly lower than other seafood labeling. 

Read More: How to Find MSC Certified Seafood Near You

How Does Purchasing Certified Seafood Help End Overfishing?

Everyone has a part to play. 

As a consumer, you have the power to make the switch to MSC-certified, sustainably sourced seafood when you visit the fish market or supermarket, or when you eat at a restaurant. The more public pressure there is for sustainable seafood products, the faster that unsustainable fishing practices will be eliminated.

In order for large-scale change to happen, governments must also act to end harmful fisheries subsidies which contribute to overfishing, as well as set fishing quotas in line with scientific advice on what is sustainable.

We know how to tackle overfishing, and we all need to play our part collectively in ending it.