Huge growth in sustainable seafood market – but eel’s still reeling

If you’re serving certified sustainable seafood then you’re part of a massively growing market, helping preserve stocks and feeding consumer’s increasing appetite. Take a bow!

But before you start polishing your halo, be sure to read down to the end of this blog, as there might be a small sting in the tale.

First the good news. Certified sustainable seafood now accounts for 14% of global production – up from just 0.5% in 2005 – and is worth an estimated $11.5 billion annually. That’s the headline finding of a new report, State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the Blue Economy, produced by an alliance of international organisations.

When you consider that an estimated 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population is either directly or indirectly dependent on seafood for their livelihoods and that 88 per cent of fish stocks are either fully exploited or overexploited, the need for the certified market to grow has never been greater. And growing it is – particularly in aquaculture, albeit it started from a low base. Certified aquaculture production is currently rising 75% a year.

While only about a third of consumers recognise the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification label, that doesn’t mean they don’t care. On the contrary, almost double that number want to see restaurants serving sustainable seafood on their menus. The lesson here is to make sure your customers know what you’re serving them.

Drill down into the meat of this latest report and a divide is exposed. Demand for sustainable seafood is largely restricted to Japan, North America and Europe and the bulk of certified production occurs in Peru, USA, Norway, Chile and Russia, despite 90% of fishermen and fish farmers being in Africa and Asia.

There are some causes for optimism about the future in Asia though, the report’s authors say, in countries like Vietnam in particular, where certified aquaculture is expected to increase significantly and there is cautious optimism that China will move in this direction too. Historically the certification schemes have been there to safeguard stocks and not taken into account the atrocious working practices run by many employers. This is starting to change, with the introduction of an MSC policy on forced labour.

While the range of certified seafood has been largely restricted to a handful of species, that is changing too.

So, with demand on the rise, supply increasing – there’s never been a better time to source and serve sustainable seafood.

Now for the sting in the tale…

One fish that is definitely not certified sustainable and is very unlikely to be so any time soon (sadly), is eel. Delicious? Yes, absolutely. Sustainable? No. Recent press articles, like the one in last weekend’s Telegraph, talking about its ‘sustainability’ and fashionability, really don’t help.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, ICES and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) are all agreed. European eel is a critically endangered species and should not be caught, cooked or eaten. Here’s what the MCS says about wild eel: “Avoid eating European eel at any stage in its lifecycle.” And this is what it has to say about farmed eel: “Eel ranching contributes to depletion of endangered wild stocks and does not provide a farmed alternative to reduce pressure on wild stocks.”

We hope that’s clear. If you’re in any doubt, do please contact your Account Manager for more information.

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