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The United Kingdom and Ireland are surrounded by water. According to the Ordnance Survey the UK coastline is 11,073 miles – a lot more if you include all the islands. As an island nation, the ocean plays a vital role in our lives, from providing work for the UK’s fishing fleets to influencing weather patterns.

Oceans are indeed essential to life on Earth. They cover more than 70 per cent of the planet's surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive.

Our oceans are home to an extraordinary variety of life. Much of this life is essential to sustain people’s livelihoods and ensure food security as millions rely on fish as their primary source of protein. Seafood is our last major food source that is truly wild.

Overfished oceans and a decline in marine populations 

The stakes are high when we consider how the health of our oceans is so intrinsically linked to our environmental, social and economic wellbeing.

With more than a third of the world’s fish stocks now fished beyond their sustainable limits, the MSC stresses the importance of eating seafood only from sustainable sources. In this way we can ensure the nutritional benefits of increased catches are realised and vital ocean ecosystems are protected.

A functioning ocean ecosystem means the natural processes are working effectively, including those providing goods and services to humans, such as storing carbon, filtering water or food to eat.

A study, published in the journal Nature in 2023, found that more than 500 common species of fish, seaweed, coral and invertebrates that live on reefs around Australia have declined in the past decade. It’s a similar story in many other parts of the world.

Key factors contributing to the wider decline of marine populations are overfishing, illegal and destructive fishing and the rise in ocean temperatures.

What is overfishing?

Overfishing occurs when too many fish in a particular stock are caught and there are not enough adults to breed and sustain a healthy population. How do we combat overfishing?
What is overfishing?

Marine heatwaves 

In 2023, global ocean sea surface temperatures were higher than any previous June on record, according to a report by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, with particular concern regarding satellite readings in the North Atlantic. Experts are concerned because marine heatwaves and warming seas linked to accelerated climate change can affect ocean biodiversity, fisheries and weather patterns.

If the current North Atlantic marine heat wave continues it could repeat the impact of similar marine heat waves around the globe. Both the 2011 Western Australia and 2014-2016 US West Coast marine heat waves reduced fish populations to such an extent that fisheries closed for more than three years to help rebuild fish stocks. 

Extreme marine temperatures have also been observed around the UK and Ireland recently. North Sea water temperatures off parts of the coast of England have been up to 5C above typical readings for the time of year (June 2023). These unusual temperatures can create a stressful, even lethal, environment for the UK’s ocean life such as kelp, seagrass, fish and oysters. 

What is the MSC doing? 

For over 25 years, we have been working with fisheries, seafood companies and scientists to help protect the oceans around us and safeguard seafood supplies. 

Sustainably managing our natural resources will mean that our oceans remain productive, resilient and adaptable to environmental changes. 

A recent study revealed that fish stocks targeted by sustainable fishers were healthier and more resilient than those which were not. 

By choosing seafood products with the blue MSC ecolabel you are directly supporting fishing that takes care of our oceans and encouraging others to do the same.