What does the blue MSC ecolabel mean?

The blue MSC ecolabel is only applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a set of requirements for sustainable fishing.

Fish and seafood with the blue label come from a fishery that has been independently assessed on its impacts on wild fish populations and the ecosystems they're part of.

All along the supply chain, MSC certified products are separated from non-certified. They are clearly labelled so they can always be traced to a certified sustainable source.

Why do we need the MSC ecolabel?

Overfishing is a grave threat to our oceans and the reason the MSC and our ecolabel exist. More than a third of fish stocks are estimated to be fished at unsustainable levels.

Overfishing is driven by several factors that will worsen the status of our oceans unless we do something about them.

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 effects of overfishing are exacerbated 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.

Can we end overfishing by simply not eating fish?

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.

Research shows that sustainably managed stocks of fish are more productive in the long-term, resulting in a ‘win-win’ for the oceans and for us. Millions of people around the globe rely on seafood as a vital source of protein and for their livelihoods.

What is 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 
  • minimising their impact on other species and the wider ecosystem.

How robust is the MSC’s certification system for sustainable seafood?

Our certification process is independent, verifiable and based on science. We do not directly certify fisheries – they gain certification from an independent assessor and 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 our 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 the seafood that I am buying is 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. Our 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 labelled.

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, labelling and separation. 

The MSC also sometimes commissions independent DNA tests on MSC labelled 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 mislabelling rates on MSC labelled products are less than 1% - significantly lower than other seafood labelling.

What can I do to end overfishing?

Everyone has a part to play. You should look and ask for MSC certified, sustainably sourced seafood when you visit the market, fishmonger 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.

We also want governments to 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 but we all need to play our part collectively in ending it.

10 reasons to choose the blue fish label

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Underwater detailed shot of fish schooling

What is sustainable fishing?

Sustainable fishing means leaving enough fish in the ocean, respecting habitats and ensuring people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.

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Gloved hand placing sockeye salmon fillets (left) on fish counter, next to haddock fillets (right)

Is seafood with the MSC label really sustainable?

You can trust that seafood with the blue MSC label was caught by a responsible fishery in a sustainable way.

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Woman and daughter choosing from frozen section in supermarket

How does the MSC label compare?

There are many labels out there, so how does the blue fish compare with others?

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