fish crate

Volumes of MSC-labelled frozen sales grew, while sales of chilled, food-to-go, fish counter and foodservice products all decreased, the report showed

Sales of Marine Stewardship Council-certified products hit £1.26bn in the UK and Ireland in 2021 – slightly down on the £1.30bn recorded in 2020, the sustainability NGO has revealed.

In its latest market report for 2021, the MSC found the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had varied considerably by sector and product format, but it was largely the suspension of mackerel from the MSC programme that led to the year-on-year drop in sales.

MSC-labelled frozen product sales volumes had grown over the past year by 24%, while sales of chilled, food-to-go, fish counter and foodservice products all decreased, the report showed.

Overall, the number of labelled products sold in the UK and Ireland fell from 1,642 in 2019/20 to 1,560 last year, driven largely by the suspension of all North East Atlantic mackerel fisheries. However, the variety of sustainably sourced species rose to 45, compared with 33 six years ago.

The report also found the labelling of MSC-certified fish and seafood in petfood had grown by 53% in the UK and Ireland during the past five years, while consumer spend on certified fish oil and supplements surpassed £7m for the first time.

“Our 2021 Market Report showcases the continued leadership of the UK and Irish markets in sustainable seafood, highlighting the growing range of MSC-certified products available and profiling emerging sectors in the space,” said MSC UK & Ireland senior commercial manager Seth McCurry.

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“The industry has demonstrated great resilience as it has been forced to adapt to a new and unforeseen reality.”

However, a separate MSC UK Tuna Shopper Report revealed there had been a significant decline in the number of sustainable tuna products available to UK shoppers. Four years ago the UK accounted for almost 17% of the volume of all MSC labelled tuna sold globally. This figure had now dropped to 5%, the report said.

The MSC put the reduction down to growth in sales in other countries (thereby reducing the UK’s share), alongside changes in sourcing decisions of the fish, which led to a reduction in the use of MSC-certified tuna on some branded and supermarket own label ranges. It comes amid growing concern that tuna stocks in a number of fisheries globally are in decline as a result of overfishing.  

“Tuna fisheries around the world have made great progress in recent years, in demonstrating their sustainability to the MSC Standard,” McCurry said. “Brands in the US and Europe have recognised that progress and are offering more certified sustainable tuna products to shoppers than ever before. For the UK shopper, the trend is the opposite, with certified sustainable tuna options decreasing for a number of years.”