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Fishery Sustainability

Hooked on tuna? The fishy truth.

fishery sustainability

A better indicator of fishery sustainability

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s authority on fisheries, 34.2% of fisheries are overfished. Furthermore, FAO considers a population of fish that is below 80% of its target biomass to be overfished. That definition fails to capture the current fishing pressure on the stock, a much better indicator of current and future fishery sustainability. For example, a stock at target biomass that is experiencing overfishing would not be considered overfished by FAO, but its sustainability would be highly threatened.

Overfishing or overfished?

Overfishing – or too much fishing pressure on a stock, is generally a better indicator of fishery sustainability than if a population is overfished – the wording is very similar but does have different meanings which are important to understand. In fact, the similarity of the terms has caused a historical misinterpretation of stats and the FAO are now taking responsibility to change their terminology.  A final consideration is that, though FAO compiles the most complete data on fishing around the world, there are several places that do not have the scientific or management capacity to monitor their fisheries. Underdeveloped parts of Asia and Africa do not have good data on their fisheries and most likely have significant amounts of overfishing and depleted stocks.

This week, food and beverage group Princes, has launched a roadmap toward achieving 100% sourcing of its UK Princes branded tuna from Marine Stewardship Council – ‘certified sustainable fisheries’ by the end of 2025. Princes Group Director for Seafood Neil Bohannon said the brand is committed to supporting the long-term sustainability of tuna stocks and recognizes the important role it has to play in advocating for continued improvements in fishing practices and positive change. MSC describes itself as an international non-profit organization that recognizes and rewards efforts to protect oceans and safeguard seafood supplies for the future. Their website states:

Our mission is to use our eco-label and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.

MSC Blue TickThe blue tick

As a result, the MSC’s coveted blue tick is the world’s biggest, and some would argue best fishery eco-label, but in recent years, investigation into the companies’ procedures have caused controversy, highlighting that MSC may not be as sustainable as we are led to believe. Last year MSC hit the news, when two whales were spotted entangled in ropes off the Gulf of St Lawrence, leading to traumatising death. Furthermore, some of the fisheries that threaten this species of whale, were certified as ‘sustainable; by MSC. They hit the headlines again when Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy’ accused MSC of certifying fisheries with a high level of bycatch – where species such as dolphins and whales are caught in fishing nets. This alluded to many thinking that MSC has murky motives, as their certification is evidently too easy to achieve. MSC denied the allegations and accused the documentary of making misleading claims.

In the absence of governments looking after our oceans, MSC is our next best option, however last year, its labelled products were worth £9.5bn. Considering this, critics argue that the very nature of the MSC model whereby fisheries pay to be certified, poses conflict of interest. This means MSC would have higher financial interest to get larger businesses certified in order to bring more money in. They rely on these licensing fees to bring in 50% of their revenue so the worry is whether the fee is more important than the sustainability of their customers fishing practises. Environmentalists have been trying to get MSC to change their labelling for the last 15 years, by removing the word sustainable and replacing it with a vaguer term. This is because most fisheries that have been certified, have conditions attached to it. These conditions ask fisherman to change the way they operate in order to comply; however, they have multiple years to meet their conditions. So, the fish you’re buying with an MSC label, which is usually more expensive, may not currently be any different to the fish without the label.

How you can help fishery sustainability

This article had only scratched the surface of the controversy that MSC brings however has highlighted that it’s evidently not our best option when looking to be more sustainable in the fish we purchase. So, what can you do?

  • Buy from community supported fisheries, where local fisherman sells their catch to individual consumers. Because their fishing is on a much smaller scale, they’re much more likely to use low impact catch methods to retrieve their stock. Some markets have stalls that specifically only sell wild catch, this is your best option. When shopping directly from the fisherman, you can build relationships and find out exactly what you’re buying and where it’s from.
  • Reduce the number of fish you consume. Fish can often be seen as a luxury anyway, because of its higher ticket price. However, with economies of scale from fisheries that catch huge amounts of fish, it can be purchased very cheaply. Either way, limiting your intake of fish to once every week or two, and trying to buy it from a local market, can really help contribute to healthier oceans.

In terms of catching methods, the Seafood Watch app and website, is also dedicated to spreading more information in this area. In general, more people are willing to buy line-caught fish because of its sustainability credentials, however there is still differentiation within this label. Long line fishing creates a lot more bycatch than pole and line fishing so, if you can, opt for the latter.

At eco-shaper, we drive action on climate change and streamline carbon footprinting. For example, we can help calculate emissions across the entire ecosystem that companies work across and produce automated reporting based on outcomes. It’s like Xero, for sustainability. Contact us to be part of our research group on



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