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Rapid growth in MSC certified tuna

  • 38% growth in volume of MSC labelled tuna products, projected to reach 100000t 
  • double the global tuna catch engaged in MSC program since 2019-20
  • majority of commercial tuna stocks at healthy levels of abundance (65%)

It is increasingly possible for consumers to choose sustainable tuna, new data published by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) shows, with a projected 38% rise in tuna products carrying the MSC ecolabel in 2020-21 alongside a growing number of tuna fisheries committing to be sustainable -- almost 30% of the global tuna catch is now MSC certified. 

Rapid growth in sustainable tuna, driven by consumer demand, reflects a rise in support in the retail and foodservice sector for sustainably sourced tuna and on-pack labelling. In the past year, some of the global brands that have made strong commitments to sourcing tuna caught by MSC certified fisheries include Edeka, Netto, Walmart, Bumble Bee, and Lidl.  

The blue MSC label, trusted by seafood consumers, is only applied to seafood products from an MSC certified sustainable source. The tuna in MSC labelled products is from a fishery that has healthy tuna stocks, is well managed and minimises impact on the ecosystem. 

Tuna fisheries have worked hard, often across many years, to meet the science based standard set by the MSC. Sixty-five tuna fisheries are now MSC certified, up from 50 in 2019-20, and around half of the global tuna catch is either certified as sustainable or is working towards that goal. The proportion of the global tuna catch by volume engaged in the MSC program for sustainable fishing doubled from 2019-20 to 2020-21 (26% to 49%), with MSC certified tuna fisheries representing 28.89% and another 20.4% in assessment, up from less than 1% in 2019-20. 

A report by the UN published in 2020 found eight tuna stocks had been rebuilt to a healthy level between 2014 to 2019, reducing the number of major tuna stocks experiencing overfishing from 13 to five. More recent data from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation indicates that the majority of commercial tuna stocks remain at healthy levels of abundance (65%). While, 13% of tuna stocks remain below ideal abundance and 22% of stocks are being overfished [5], tuna stocks are faring better than average as the UN FAO estimates 34.2% of commercial fisheries are overfished [6]. 

The Marine Stewardship Council’s Chief Program Officer, Nicolas Guichoux, says: 

“The growth of MSC certified tuna reflects the achievements of the fisheries committing to sustainability, and businesses in the sustainable seafood supply chain are recognising and rewarding these fisheries. 

“Our sustainable tuna handbook, which has been updated for 2021, informs tuna buyers on sourcing sustainable tuna from fisheries that have met the high bar set in the MSC fisheries standard, and provides information on the conditions tuna fisheries will need to meet to maintain MSC certification.
“We applaud the progress made by many tuna fisheries on sustainability, but there is more to do. There is an urgent need for almost all regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs) to put in place robust harvest control rules so catch levels can be adjusted in response to scientific data. To retain MSC certification, many tuna fisheries must do this by 2023, which requires concerted international cooperation.”

The MSC is the only global wild-capture fisheries certification program that simultaneously meets best practice requirements set by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) and ISEAL, the international code for sustainability systems.

Data recorded by the MSC shows sales of tuna products licenced to carry the MSC label rose by almost a third (+30%) reaching 70,000 tons in 2019/20 and are projected to reach 100,000 tons in 2020/21, with the biggest growth in the America market (+83%) followed by Europe (+52%). Canned or preserved tuna are projected to have doubled, up from 46,200 in 2019-20 to 68,916 tons in 2020-21; food to go & ready meals containing MSC certified tuna grew by a third, up from 16,740 to 22,266; and chilled tuna sales increased from 3,694 to 4149. In contrast, volumes of MSC labelled tuna in food service outlets fell year on year, due to the impact of covid-19. 

The MSC Sustainable Tuna Handbook 2021 highlights a recent survey for the MSC which found that 7 in 10 seafood consumers globally believe that supermarket and brands’ sustainability claims need to be clearly labelled by an independent organisation, and nearly 9 in 10 (88%) want better information so they can be confident they are not buying unsustainable fish or seafood products.

Almost double the proportion of the global tuna stocks by volume were engaged in the MSC program for sustainable fishing in 2020-21 compared to the previous year (49.29%, 25.6% in 2019-20). The number of MSC certified tuna fisheries rose from 50 to 65 fisheries, representing (28.89%) of the global tuna catch by volume. Another 32 tuna fisheries, which catch 20.4% of the global tuna catch by volume, are being independently audited to see if these meet the high bar set in the MSC Fishery Standard, up from less than 1% in 2019-20. In addition, 19.54% of global tuna catch is taken by fisheries in a fisheries improvement project (FIP) with an objective to achieve sustainable fishing.

The report by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, published March 2021, estimates the status of commercial tuna stocks globally. It states: 

  • Healthy stock numbers:
    Globally, 65% of the 23 stocks are at healthy levels of abundance, 22% are at an intermediate level and 13% are overfished.
  • Well managed fisheries:
    74% of the 23 stocks are experiencing a well-managed fishing mortality rate, and 22% are experiencing overfishing.
  • Largest tuna catches by stock:
    The five largest catches in tonnes are Western Pacific Ocean skipjack, Western Pacific Ocean yellowfin, Indian Ocean skipjack, Indian Ocean yellowfin and Eastern Pacific Ocean skipjack.
  • Depleted stocks and overfishing:
    Atlantic Ocean bigeye, Indian Ocean yellowfin and Pacific bluefin tuna stocks continue to be overfished and subject to overfishing; Indian Ocean albacore and bigeye continue to be subject to overfishing. All skipjack stocks remain healthy.

For more information about MSC certified sustainable tuna, please visit: 

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