According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), approximately 87% of the world’s fisheries are overexploited or fully exploited. In fact, the fleet needs to be as much as one third smaller in capacity if we want our oceans to continue to teem with life.
Consumers have an important role to play here: by making more responsible purchasing decisions, they can help to drive change within the fishing industry. Buying Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified seafood directly rewards well-managed fisheries for their sustainable practices. The more MSC-labelled, demonstrably sustainable produce bought, the larger the market for certified sustainable seafood becomes. If they want to tap into this market, fisheries operating below the MSC standard will have to reduce their environmental impact and acquire MSC certification, thereby adding to the number of sustainable fisheries in operation.
“Eventually, we hope that every wild-caught fish will be able to bear the MSC label”, says James Simpson, Communications Manager at the MSC. “It’s going to be a long journey, but we’re making significant strides: 10% of the world’s wild-captured fish are already in the programme.” To make this figure 100%, more consumers will need to understand what the MSC label means. Fortunately this is happening. In September 2012, an independent survey carried out on behalf of the MSC found that 30% of consumers who buy fish at least once every two months are aware of the MSC ecolabel for sustainable and well-managed fisheries – up from 23% in 2010. What’s more, over 9% of all respondents were able to accurately describe, without any prompting, what the MSC ecolabel stands for, as opposed to 5% in 2010.
“There’s a rise in interest right across the board”, says Simpson. “We’ve also seen a huge increase both in terms of the number of mentions of sustainable fishing online and in print, and the amount of people interested in sustainable fish and related issues. It’s becoming something people are really interested in.”
Over the past three years, more than 30 in-store campaigns have also taken place around the world in conjunction with major retailers, resulting in a 500% increase in sales of MSC products. Contract caterers like Compass and global restaurant chains such as McDonalds have also made large-scale commitments to the MSC label – the latter introducing it in all of its European restaurants and 14,000 US sites.
While the MSC is keen to engage with consumers of all ages on sustainable consumption, according to Michel Kaiser, Professor of Marine Conservation Ecology at Bangor University, “if one is to affect behavioural change you need to take the long term view and realise that it is the next generation that will be most receptive to these messages”. Indeed, a recent survey of 4,000 US adults by the Natural Marketing Institute found that the percentage of Generation Y who “buy as many green/eco-friendly products as they can” had risen to 36% in 2012 from 31% in 2009. And from going into primary schools and talking to children, MSC staff have seen first-hand how the generation that follows on from Gen Y intuitively understands the importance of this issue too.
MSC-labelled fish is now on the menus at some 4,000 primary schools across the UK, supplied via the local authority, which chooses what’s on the school menu. Many of the contracts they can select from include the option to serve sustainable fish. However, some local authorities are stopping their support for central catering contracts, while academies are being encouraged by the Government to make their own healthy eating standards. Because of this, it is more important than ever to ramp up the MSC’s Fish and Kids project and reach more schools.
Launched in 2006, Fish and Kids encourages schools and restaurants in England to serve sustainable, MSC-labelled seafood. It gives children, teachers, parents and caterers the opportunity to find out why choosing sustainable seafood is vital for the future of fish, fishing communities and the environment. With the help of Murdock, the friendly, sustainable fish-eating cat and mascot for the project, the scheme is able to communicate with children on their level, teaching them about the food chain from boat to plate and responsible consumption. Moreover, by engaging with young consumers while they are still living at home, the MSC is also engaging with their parents: a child’s knowledge and enthusiasm about sustainable fishing should encourage the rest of the family to support it too. – Charlotte Owen
MSC is a Forum for the Future Partner.
Photo credit: Cecil Lee / Flickr