Changing the conversation about health

Behind the blue label on your can of sardines: Can you really eat fish that is truly sustainable?

Overfishing the earth’s waters for food can make our pursuit of a healthy, Omega 3-rich diet feel less appetising – but there are ways to ensure what goes on your plate is sustainably sourced.

Here, Ishbel Matheson of the Marine Stewardship Council UK explains the importance of understanding where our fish and seafood comes from…

The NHS recommends eating at least 2 portions a week of fish, as the vitamins, minerals and Omega-
3 fatty acids found in seafood are an important part of a healthy diet. But overfishing is a major
concern – with more than a third of global fish stocks exploited at unsustainable levels. So how can
we square the need for healthy living with the need to protect the ocean and sea life?

The Marine Stewardship Council’s iconic blue fish label on pack, in store and on menus, has been helping consumers for over quarter of a century identify quickly which wild fish they can eat with confidence, knowing that fish has been caught using sustainable methods.

The blue fish symbol carried on sustainably fished products in UK supermarkets – and seen here with Cornish herring fisherman and their catch – has been offering reassurance to consumers for more than 25 years (Image: Marine Stewardship Council)

We work with 670 fisheries around the world, and almost 20% of the global wild marine catch is
either certified or in assessment to our sustainable fishing programme. To be certified, fishers are
independently assessed to verify the stocks they are targeting are healthy, that their impact on the
marine environment is minimized and that they have robust management practises in place to make
all of that happen.

Fisheries work hard to make the improvements necessary to be part of the programme. In Cornwall,
hake fishers – first certified in 2015 – started using nets with a larger mesh size, allowing juveniles to
escape and the stock to increase, whilst Cornish sardine fishers – certified since 2010 – have used
detailed logbooks to inform fishing practises, on catch weights, discards and interactions with
seabirds and cetaceans.

Rich in Omega-3, oily fish can contribute to a healthy diet – but it’s important to know the heritage of the fish and seafood you’re consuming, says Marine Stewardship Council (Image:

The 2021 Seaspiracy film famously asserted there was no such thing as sustainable fishing. That
claim was widely debunked by many experts, along with other assertions in the film (like the
prediction that the ocean will be empty of fish by 2048). But the film’s role in raising awareness of
the crisis in overfishing and the need to act has been welcome.

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If progress is to be made, public support for fishers investing in sustainable methods – whether they
are large-scale commercial fisheries or small day boat operations – is vital. The benefits for marine
biodiversity are obvious, but so are the benefits for us.

Research shows that fish stocks which are well-managed are more productive in the long-term,

meaning that there will be even more fish to help feed our growing global population, set to reach
10 billion by 2050. Choosing blue labelled fish on your next visit to the supermarket, can help both
people and the planet.