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MSC Annual Report 2019-2020

The Marine Stewardship Council reports progress in sustainable fishing but urges that efforts be re-doubled to meet the urgent challenges facing our oceans

The Marine Stewardship Council – an environmental not-for-profit which sets a global standard for sustainable fishing – says there has been encouraging progress in the shift towards sustainably produced seafood, but that momentum has to increase to meet the scale of the challenges facing the oceans. 

New figures released by the MSC show that in 2019-2020, fisheries representing more than 17% of the world’s wild marine catch were engaged with its programme [1], whilst the number of businesses involved in producing, processing and sourcing MSC-certified seafood continues to rise sharply [2,3]

The organisation’s 2019-2020 annual report, Celebrating and Supporting Sustainable Fisheries, also details that: 

  • catch from fisheries engaged in the program has reached 14.7 million tonnes, up from 12.2 million tonnes in the previous financial year.
  • consumer choice has increased, with double the number of MSC-labelled product lines (18,735) compared to five years ago.
  • retail sales of MSC-labelled products has passed $10 billion for the first time, highlighting growing consumer demand for sustainable products.

This progress comes against a backdrop of growing concern about the health of the world’s oceans – with the UN reporting more than one third of stocks are over-fished, a trend which continues to worsen.

However, there is also growing recognition of the importance of sustainable fishing in protecting our oceans. In June this year the Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that sustainable fisheries are more productive and resilient to change [4], while a UN report in September [5] found that sustainable fishing protected ocean biodiversity.

There are 409 fisheries in the MSC certification program with an increasing presence in the developing world. The proportion of catch from fisheries engaged with the MSC program which came from the Global South rose by nearly a quarter compared to the previous year, to 13%. 

Marine Stewardship Council CEO, Rupert Howes, said: 

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic which continues to inflict enormous human suffering and grave economic damage. However, the crisis also presents an opportunity to shift our economies to a more sustainable and more equitable footing. Ensuring thriving oceans for future generations is an essential component of this. 

“For more than 20 years the MSC has connected fishers, business and consumers who care about the future of our oceans. We cannot afford to slip back – we must increase our efforts to engage more fisheries, reach new markets and drive further improvements through the leadership of our partners whose success we celebrate. Let us use this opportunity to redouble efforts to conserve our oceans for future generations.” 

The Marine Stewardship Council’s 2019-20 annual report, Celebrating and Supporting Sustainable Fisheries


1. Fisheries engaged in the MSC program refers to fisheries that are certified and those that have formally entered assessment for MSC certification. Annual Report 2019-20, page 12  
2. The number of MSC labelled products available to consumers globally has doubled in the past five years, rising from 9,326 in 2014-15 to 18,735 in 2019-20. These figures are for products that were sold in a given financial year, and have grown alongside the overall number of products licensed to carry the MSC label.Annual Report 2019-20, pages 34-35   

3. There are now 45,160 businesses certified to the MSC’s Chain of Custody standard, a 16-fold increase compared to ten years ago. The Standard ensures an unbroken chain where certified seafood is identifiable, segregated and traceable. Annual Report 2019-20, page 34

4. 34.2% of stocks estimated to be fished at biologically unsustainable levels (2017 data), UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2020 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, page 7

5. UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2020 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, page 8

6. UN Global Biological Diversity Outlook 5 report, pages 58-63