June 8, 2020

Concern for the Oceans Drives Consumers to ‘Vote with Their Forks’ for Sustainable Seafood

South African consumers are leading the world in consumer activism to protect our oceans and the seafood we all love. Choosing seafood with the blue MSC label is just one easy way to take action for our oceans this World Oceans Day.

High levels of concern for our oceans are driving a growing wave of consumer activism, research for the Marine Stewardship Council reveals, as consumers increasingly ‘vote with their forks’ to safeguard our oceans.

The largest survey of its kind, involving more than 20,000 people across 23 countries and conducted by independent insights consultancy, GlobeScan, reveals that 77% of South African seafood shoppers already made changes to the way they choose and buy seafood in the last year, in order to protect fish in our oceans.

Consumer activism includes switching to brands or products that say they help protect the oceans or fish (37%), buying different seafood species (22%) and changing where they buy seafood (18%). Nearly 9 out of 10 South African seafood consumers are prepared to take further action in the future to safeguard our oceans.

These actions are being fuelled by the worry held by 42% of South Africans that their favourite fish won’t be available to eat in 20 years’ time. For plenty more fish to be left in the sea, seafood consumers say buying fish and seafood from sustainable sources is vital.

Among the preferred fish and seafood species, a third of South Africans indicated their love for hake. Now in its 16th year of MSC certification, South Africa’s hake trawl was the first hake fishery in the world, and the second groundfish fishery, to be certified against the MSC Fisheries Standard. Brands such as I&J, SeaHarvest and Woolworths’ homebrand sell a wide range of MSC certified Cape Hake.

A number of long-term ecological and economic gains have been achieved by the hake fishery since its first certification in 2004. Optimised fishing practices have led to major environmental improvements including a 90% decline in seabird mortalities associated with the fishery.  

A third of South African seafood lovers say they look for ecolabelled products when shopping, particularly 18-24 year olds and shoppers with children1. Choosing products with the blue MSC label allows consumers to enjoy eating seafood in the knowledge that they have made a positive choice to support well-managed, sustainable fisheries.

Oceans contain up to 80% of life on earth 2, with seafood providing an important source of protein to more than 3 billion people across the world 3.  However, a third of fisheries around the world have been fished beyond sustainable limits, and a further 60% 4 are fished to their maximum capacity.

This World Oceans Day (8th June), the independent, not-for-profit Marine Stewardship Council is launching a new global campaign Little Blue Label, Big Blue Future. The aim is to encourage more consumers to switch to seafood that is certified to its rigorous ‘blue label’ standard.

Rupert Howes, Chief Executive at the Marine Stewardship Council said: “With overfishing, climate change and pollution putting increasing pressure on our oceans, the choices we make as consumers have never been more important. This survey shows people really do care where their seafood comes from and how it is sourced.

“At a time when the seafood industry is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we can all play a part in supporting fishers committed to sustainable practices, helping to protect marine ecosystems and safeguarding our seafood supplies for future generations. Choose certified sustainable seafood by looking out for the blue MSC label.”

SA Chefs President James Khoza stands in solidarity with this initiative, saying: “One of the fundamentals of being a good chef is to respect the ‘ingredient’. Honourable artisans are also responsible, sustainable warriors. We understand the plight that the ocean ecosystem is under, and we, therefore, lock away our knives on any endangered fish species in support of the preservation of all types of fish for future generations. As the South African Chefs Association, we speak with one voice, in unity with the Marine Stewardship Council in their endeavour to change the way we eat for the betterment of all species.”

For those not in the know, the Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organisation which sets a globally recognised, science-based standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability.

The blue MSC label on a seafood product means that: it comes from a wild-catch fishery which has been independently certified to the MSC’s science-based standard for environmentally sustainable fishing; it is fully traceable to a sustainable source. It can be found on more than 100 species of seafood in 100 countries. msc.org.


1     39% of 18 to 24-year olds and 40% parents compared with 26% of those without children, say that they are willing to take action in the future to protect the fish and seafood in our oceans.

2     An estimated 50-80% of all animal life on earth is found under the ocean surface. More detail can be found in PNAS  115 (25) 6506.

3      According to the United nation Food and Agriculture Organisation, fish provide about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein – (UNFAO 2018) SOFIA Report, p70

4      According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, 33% of the world’s fish stocks are currently overfished, with this figure increasing consistently since 1974. 60% are fished to their maximum capacity.