In 2017 the MSC set itself a target – to engage more of the world’s fisheries with the MSC Program and get them to move towards sustainable fishing practices by 2020. The MSC’s overarching aim was to accelerate progress towards ending overfishing, a goal which the UN and governments around the globe have agreed is an essential part of delivering Sustainable Development Goal 14, Protecting Life Below Water.
The same year, the European Commission (EC) was due to host Our Oceans, an annual conference that aims to find sustainable solutions to the problems facing the oceans and invite attendees to commit to those solutions. For most of its history, this conference had been dominated by governments. The EC wanted to change this, recognising that any discussion about using the ocean sustainably would be meaningless unless it included representatives from all the groups, stakeholders and actors that use, depend upon and interact with the oceans. This included scientists, NGOs and industry.
The EC engaged the MSC, an NGO that works with scientists, enlightened companies and stakeholders from across the value chain of the fishing industry. It motivates them to catch, buy and sell fish that meets the MSC’s Standard for sustainability and encourages others to do the same. The MSC was asked by the EC to use its influence to identify companies from the fishing and seafood industry that were already leading the way on sustainability and bring together their commitments at the conference.
The MSC responded by establishing the Leaders for a Living Ocean (LLO), a network of 27 companies drawn from all parts of the world and from across the global fish and seafood supply chain. All were already leaders in sustainability and had made public commitments that would accelerate progress towards the MSC’s goal of ending overfishing by 2020.
A huge collective influence
Nicolas Guichoux, MSC Chief Program Officer: “The companies we approached to join LLO included some of the largest fisheries, supermarkets, brands and restaurants in the world.
“They collectively exert huge influence over how the world catches, manages, sells and eats fish. Many of them had been with the MSC from the start, and had already made industry leading commitments to buy and sell more fish from sustainable sources.
“By coming together and uniting their commitments behind one common MSC-led goal, these companies were able to send a powerful message. That message told the world’s fisheries that making the often time consuming and effortful change to operate sustainably would be rewarded. It exposed companies in the wider industry that claimed operating sustainably was not something they could do, whilst still selling products affordably and making a profit.
“Lastly it showed consumers that care about the oceans which companies they should reward by shopping and eating there."
What motivates the Leaders?
The changes the Leaders for a Living Ocean had committed to were not superficial, or motivated by a desire for good PR. These companies were pledging to increase the amount of sustainable fish and seafood they caught, bought and sold. In some cases, this meant restructuring entire supply chains, stopping or changing certain product lines, and closing off the option of buying cheaper or more readily available fish and seafood.
What motivated these huge, global businesses to commit to sustainability in such a seismic way? Put simply, they had the foresight to realise before the rest of the industry, that if they wanted to stay in business and continue to sell fish and seafood into the future, they had no other choice.
Overfishing is one of many human activities that is harming the biodiversity and health of the oceans. More than a third of fisheries (34.2%) globally are already operating at unsustainable levels, meaning fish are being taken out of the sea faster than they can replenish. As the world’s population and the demand for fish and seafood continues to grow, this trend is set to worsen. As fish stocks plummet, the livelihoods, economies and food security of billions are at risk - particularly in the Global South. Something has to change.
Eating less fish or switching to selling and eating other kinds of food is possible for some, but it isn’t a realistic or scalable option for many across the globe. In 2021, billions already depend on fish and seafood as a vital source of protein and millions work in fishing and fish farming, especially in the developing world. By 2050, the world’s population will have grown to 10 billion people. Simply stopping fishing would risk undermining progress that has been made on global food security and hunger, and would damage vulnerable economies and risk jobs.
The world can continue to eat fish, while still protecting fish stocks and the biodiversity and health of the oceans and marine environment. For more than 20 years the MSC has been working with scientists and NGOs to set and continually update its Standard for sustainable fishing – then collaborating with enlightened fisheries, brands and retailers to move more of the industry towards a sustainable way of operating. Some of the Leaders for a Living Ocean have been working with the MSC for the entirety of that 20-year journey and their foresight is paying off as more evidence emerges that proves the effectiveness of the MSC model.
Impacts made by Leaders
A full register of progress made against the LLO partners’ commitments can be explored. Here are some of the impacts that LLO partners’ commitments have made:
- Lidl, which is the world’s biggest retailer for MSC labelled seafood and is active in over 34 countries, said it would continue to increase the amount of MSC certified products in all its markets until 2020 and beyond. It has
more than 1,600 individual labelled products worldwide, increasing by 25% on the previous year.
- Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt Group committed in 2017 to increase the share of MSC on their fresh and frozen fish products to 90%. They exceeded their own target reaching more than 95% in 2020, to achieve an industry leading position.
The share of MSC on Colruyt Group’s canned products moved to 58% in 2020, having first been introduced in 2017. Colruyt Group says the primary objective remains to source from MSC certified fisheries for
their 144 private label products.
- Meanwhile across the border in the Netherlands, retailer Jumbo also hit the figure of 96% of their range bearing the MSC label, including innovations such as the first MSC prawn crackers to be launched globally.
- Albert Heijn, also based in the Netherlands, made the commitment to make all of its own-brand fish products fully sustainably certified. Now more than 95% of its wild-caught seafood is under MSC certification. The remaining wild caught
seafood are sourced via a credible Fishery in Progress (FIP) scheme, or assessed as low risk by a credible third party where MSC certification is not available.
- Discount retail giants ALDI Nord Group and ALDI SOUTH Group not only increased their MSC assortment across their international businesses but also demonstrate a full supply chain commitment to sustainability, for instance by sourcing
from and investing in fishery improvement projects, such as the Moroccan sardine fishery, which ALDI SOUTH is a partner of.
- Fish Tales, which connects consumers to sustainable small-scale fisheries, committed in 2017 to have 95% of its entire wild catch MSC certified by the end of the programme. This year it proudly declared that 100% of its wild
caught seafood is now MSC certified.
- UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s committed to having all the fish it sold to be independently verified as sustainable. It is proud to be the UK retailer with the largest number of MSC certified products. Over the last three
years it has worked to maintain its certified seafood range in the face of certification challenges in some fisheries, which reflect the strict requirements of the MSC Standard. The retailer continues to work towards 100% certification for its
wild caught fish through active engagement in Fisheries Improvement Projects and dialogue with its supply base.
- METRO, a leading international wholesale company, committed to have 80% of its 12 major fish and seafood species certified by 2020, according to certification standards that have been recognised by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative
(GSSI). In December 2020 it reviewed this fish and seafood procurement policy to have 90% of the sale of these species under its own-brand environmentally certified by 2025, 100% socially certified by 2025 and 100% digitally traceable by 2030.
- Some 15% of Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union’s private label products carried the blue MSC label when LLO got underway. It now aims to increase the share of environmentally-friendly products sold under the Co-op
seafood brand to more than 20% by fiscal year 2025 and to more than 50% by fiscal year 2030.
- The Spanish cooperative EROSKI committed to prioritise MSC certified sustainable seafood at its fresh counter and has certified over 470 of its wet counters with chain of custody selling over 3000MT of MSC labelled fish in 2020. It
reported this year that it had enjoyed a 10% increase since 2019 on purchases of certified sustainable fish sold under the MSC label and almost doubled the volume of MSC seafood sold since 2017.
- Orkla Foods Sverige, a Scandinavian food brand owner, said it would move towards 100 per cent of its stock being sustainably sourced to the MSC Standard. By the end of 2020 some 106 out of 121 (88%) products, sold under its eight
marine brands, now come under that umbrella and the company plans to continue its good work.
- In 2017, US retail company Kroger said it would source 100% of its wild-caught seafood from fisheries that are MSC certified, in assessment or in a fishery improvement project (FIP). In 2019, Kroger supported 25 FIPs through sourcing
and/or funding, to help advance progress on its commitments, tripling the number of fisheries either certified or in a FIP over the past decade.
- Thai Union is a producer of seafood-based products. By the end of 2020, it said it would achieve a minimum of 75 per cent of its own brands of tuna coming from fisheries that are MSC certified or in a FIP programme. It achieved this
goal in 2019 and said that sustainability continues to be at “the very heart of Thai Union’s business”.
- Frozen food company Nomad committed to increase the amount of MSC certified fish that it sources for its Iglo, Birds Eye and Findus products. At the LLO launch some 90% was then MSC certified. By the end of 2020, more than 97% of
the fish for these brands was certified. Nomad, which has been engaged with the MSC since it was launched in 1997, has also supported non-certified fisheries on their journey and was proud to see the Namibia hake trawl and longline fishery become the first in the country to be MSC certified. "This
means we are one of the first companies to bring products made from MSC certified Namibian Hake to European consumers."
- IKEA, which offers certified fish and seafood in over 440 stores in 60 markets, said it was determined that the seafood it sourced did not contribute to the depletion of targeted fish stocks. IKEA has largely achieved its goal
towards 100% certified seafood with crayfish as a remaining exception. IKEA remains committed and welcomes positive development in the seafood industry towards MSC certification for a more sustainable future of our oceans.
- As a member of the Pelagic-Freezer Trawler Association, P & P Group has taken the lead to certify the fisheries in which it is involved against the MSC criteria. During the LLO initiative it was pleased to report that fisheries
catching shrimp in Guyana, Greenland halibut west of Greenland and jack mackerel in the South Pacific had been certified. Among other successes, a skipjack tuna fishery in the Indian Ocean entered into full assessment and another skipjack tuna fishery
in the Atlantic Ocean and a yellowfin tuna fishery in the Indian Ocean were part of FIPs.
- At the launch of LLO, eight fisheries from within the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) had been certified. By the end of the programme that number stood at 10. All 47 of Western Australian government's commercial fisheries have also been pre-assessed to the MSC Standard. The Program provides the opportunity for fisheries to voluntarily undertake full assessment.
- The Danish Fisheries Producer Organisations (DFPO and DPPO) represent Danish commercial fishermen and most of the catches. Currently 700 vessels catch around 1 million MT per annum, a reduction from 800 vessels in 2017. This makes Denmark one of the larger seafood production nations in Europe, and a top 10 exporter of seafood globally. In recent years, the DFPO and DPPO have managed to certify the main part of all Danish fisheries, and through cooperation with other fishery clients in the EU, they have ensured that MSC certifications have been maintained and achieved where possible to continue to support their sustainability claims and market access for their fishers.
- The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) are eight small island nations whose waters produce close to 50% of all skipjack tuna catches in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) and whicj collectively control approximately 30% of the world's tuna supply. The PNA are global leaders in tuna conservation and management and the PNA fishery is the largest sustainable fishery in the world with no tuna stocks overfished. Many PNA conservation measures in the purse seine fishery are world firsts – such as high seas closures to fishing, controls on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), protection of whale sharks and substantial coverage of purse seine fishing vessels with observers. The fishery is committed to MSC certification of the entire PNA fishery for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
- Ahold Delhaize, a Dutch grocery retail company, has focused on increasing the percentage of its own brand seafood products that are certified. In 2019, 31% of its total wild caught seafood sales came from products certified to the MSC Standard, up from 25 per cent the year before. In the same year, 98% of its own brand seafood product sales were certified against an acceptable standard from sustainable sources, up from 94% in 2018.
- Tmall Fresh, a service that helps foreign food companies sell to Chinese consumers, said in 2017 that it would work towards sourcing a minimum of 20% of its wild caught seafood sold on Tmall Supermarket and Mr. Fresh from sustainable sources by 2020.
- As part of Woolworths Group Australia’s new 'Sustainability Plan 2025', it has committed that all Woolworths seafood sold in its Fresh Seafood Case and packaged Woolworths Own Brand seafood products must be from sources that are third-party certified or independently verified as ecologically responsible. Woolworths long term ambition is to have all its wild-caught seafood certified by the MSC or equally credible certification schemes. Today, it offers close to 50 MSC certified products across its entire range.
Despite the advent of Covid-19, the joint efforts of LLO partners to accelerate progress means that by the start of 2021, around 15% of the world’s wild caught fish and seafood is landed by MSC certified fisheries and a further 2% of fisheries are working towards certification or recertification. That means more than 17% of the world’s wild marine fisheries are engaged with the MSC Program.
This progress is being recognised. In April 2021 the UN published its second World Ocean Assessment (UN WOA II), a comprehensive global look at the state of the world’s oceans and the impact that humanity has had on them in the five years since the first Assessment. This latest publication pointed to evidence that improvements in fisheries management in some regions are leading to more sustainable outcomes. This was highlighted as one of very few positive impacts that humanity has had on the oceans in the last five years.
More than 38,000 sites, including supermarket chains, restaurants, fishmongers and hotels, are also now certified to sell seafood with the blue MSC label.
Further eye-catching statistics include:
- 1,700 improvements were made by MSC certified fisheries by the end of 2019
- 95% of certified fisheries have made improvements in practice
- More than 19,000 different products were sold globally with the MSC blue label in the UK financial year 2019-20.
- The MSC is the only global wild-capture fisheries certification program that meets best practice requirements set by the UN FAO
Ongoing commitment is required
The world has ten years left to deliver the SDGs, including SDG 14 which includes within it a commitment to end overfishing. The MSC has a vital part to play in delivering the SDGs and has set itself the ambitious target of engaging 30% of wild marine catch in the Program by 2030. Positive signs are emerging that meeting this commitment may be possible, albeit perhaps not by the UN’s 2030 deadline. UN WOA II also referenced scientific findings that suggest 98% of currently overfished stocks could recover by the middle of this century if managed properly.
This won’t happen without a redoubling of commitment to sustainable fisheries management and collaboration from the industry, academia, NGOs and governments. Progress will only be made if we work together. The ongoing commitment from the Leaders for a Living Ocean, and the fisheries, processors, brands, supermarkets and restaurants who have been inspired by their actions, is a good foundation for this collaboration.
“This change cannot be delivered without the continued leadership of the Leaders for a Living Ocean partners. We now look to the wider fishing industry, governments, eNGOs and consumers to redouble their efforts, take action to move more of the world’s fisheries towards being sustainable, and use their influence and resources to encourage their peers to do the same.” says Nicolas Guichoux.
Find out more
For over 20 years fisheries, scientists, consumers and industry have been part of a collective effort to make sure our oceans are fished sustainably.
The best way to understand the impact of the MSC program is through those involved. Read about the passionate people taking care of our oceans.
Data from the MSC is used by organisations committed to the UN's SDG's, to track progress towards international goals to end overfishing and protect biodiversity.