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New research shows increasing appetite for sustainable seafood

  • Demand for sustainably caught seafood increases around the world
  • Traceability to a sustainable source remains high on consumers’ agenda
  • Ecolabelling is one of the most effective tools to communicate sustainability to consumers
  • Recognition of MSC ecolabel now at a 33% average. Up from 25% in 2010.

New independent research into seafood buying behaviour around the world shows that consumers are increasingly looking for fish products from a sustainable source, and that ecolabels give credibility to these claims.

The research, conducted on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), is believed to be the world’s largest international survey of sustainable seafood consumption. It questioned more than 9,000 regular seafood buyers from 15 countries across Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America. It repeats similar research undertaken on behalf of the MSC in 2010 and 2012, adding to the growing evidence base used by the MSC to encourage industry, retailers and consumers to make sustainable seafood choices.

Increased demand for sustainable seafood

Almost all (90%) respondents thought that ocean sustainability is important, with 55% saying that falling fish stocks has become a more important issue than it was a year ago. 60% agreed that buying sustainably caught seafood would help to ensure fish stocks for future generations.

This concern for ocean health is being translated into shoppers’ purchasing decisions, with two in five (41%) actively looking for fish products from a sustainable source, an increase of five percent since 2010 (36%).

Supermarkets and restaurants are seen to have a key role in ensuring the sustainability of seafood. Almost two thirds (65%) of those surveyed agreed that it’s important for supermarkets to make sure that they are selling sustainably caught fish. Those in France (78%) and Australia (74%) were the most likely to place responsibility with supermarkets. Almost the same number (61%) agreed that restaurants should show sustainable seafood options on their menus.

Recent increases in the number of MSC ecolabelled products suggest that retailers are responding to these demands. Globally, the number of seafood products carrying the MSC ecolabel increased fivefold to more than 25,000 between 2010 and 2014.

Trust for brands which use ecolabels

Almost half (46%) of respondents agreed that they trust brands that use ecolabels more than those that don’t. After recommendations from friends or family (59%), independent ecolabels were seen as the most trustworthy form of information for ensuring environmental and social responsibility (57%), ahead of specialist magazines (53%) and government advice (51%). A brand’s own promise on product came bottom of the trust rankings with just 39%.

Respondents who recognise the MSC ecolabel were more likely to think that the commercial fishing industry is improving its level of sustainability (46% compared with 33% of those who did not recognise the ecolabel).

Growing recognition for MSC ecolabel

With MSC ecolabelled products now available in around 100 countries, the survey found that a third (33%) of the regular seafood buyers recognise the MSC ecolabel. This represents an increase of 8% compared with countries surveyed in 2010. Recognition of the ecolabel remains highest in Germany (58%), Switzerland (57%) and the Netherlands (48%). Countries outside Europe are also seeing significant increases in recognition of the MSC’s blue ecolabel. Recognition in Australia has almost doubled from 12% in 2010 to 20% in 2014. In Canada recognition of the MSC ecolabel has jumped from 19% in 2012 to 25% in 2014.

The survey indicates that the market for MSC sustainable seafood will continue to grow, with two thirds (65%) of respondents saying that they intend to buy more MSC ecolabelled seafood in the future, and that they would encourage friends and family to do the same. The retail market value of consumer facing MSC ecolabelled sustainable seafood reached US$4.8 billion in 2013-14, an increase of 147 per cent since 2010.

Price and traceability paramount

Price remains the one of the primary factors determining seafood purchasing decisions (79%), with traceability of the product (66%) and its sustainability (61%) also ranking highly. However, respondents did express an increased willingness to pay a little more for a product with an ecolabel (39% compared with 32% in 2010). Recommendations from wallet advice cards (22%) and mobile apps (13%) scored lowest.

With the recent food traceability scares raising questions about food labelling, the demand for traceable products has increased most significantly in the UK, from 61% in 2012 to 67% in 2014.

Nicolas Guichoux, Global Commercial Director at the MSC said:Around the world, the demand for sustainably sourced seafood is increasing. This survey shows that ecolabelling is an effective tool for fisheries, retailers and restaurants wishing to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable fishing. With 25,000 MSC labelled products now available in around 100 counties worldwide, buyers and consumers have many opportunities to find seafood from sustainable source.  They can be assured that the food they are purchasing can be traced back to a fishery which has been independently assessed to meet the MSC’s strict scientific standards for sustainable fishing.”

The MSC ecolabel which can now be found on more than 25,000 products worldwide:


About this research

9,019 respondents were questioned across 15 countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA. Research programming, checking and analysis was conducted by research company amr, who commissioned local online survey providers to question seafood consumers within these countries. Surveys took place between 19 March to 25 July 2014 and are compared to similar research undertaken by AMR in 2010 and 2012.

Respondents were limited to those who: 

  • Are mainly / jointly responsible for buying the food for themselves / their family
  • Have brought a fish product at least once every two months from their main store
  • Do the majority of their grocery shopping in one of up to six nominated stores.

Quotas were set to achieve an equal number of shoppers at each store and to take into account dual languages where relevant.  All open questions were coded to a universal code frame using native speaking coders to ensure the correct interpretation.

Find out more and download the infographic >

UK release: Vast majority of British consumers expect retailers and restaurants to provide sustainable options >