Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Global volumes of tuna sold with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)’s blue ecolabel grew by almost 10% year on year from 196,363 metric tonnes in 2022-23 to 217,300 mt in 2023-24, according to data from the MSC. Volumes sold are up almost 60% in the two years from 2020-21 when global sales were just 137,600 mt.

Most tuna carrying the MSC certified label is tinned but the data also includes sales of wet tuna from the fish counter, frozen, in ready meals or pet food.

Tinned tuna is a nutritious but affordable source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids and has long been a store-cupboard staple. As the cost of living has risen around the world, many budget food bloggers, or ‘tinfluencers’, have turned to tinned tuna for recipes from pasta bakes to tuna melts, and from salad to stir-fry.

In the UK, consumers purchased 15,360 tonnes of MSC certified tuna in 2022/23, the highest figure to date and three times more than in 2020/21, according to the MSC UK Tuna Shopper Report 2023. Projections by the MSC estimate that this volume will surpass 25,000 tonnes for the 2023/24 financial year.

With commitments to selling 100% MSC labelled tuna by 2025 from major brands like Tesco and Princes, the volume of sustainably sourced tuna purchased by consumers in the UK is expected to increase further in the years ahead.

The huge rise in the sale of MSC certified tuna shows that ensuring seafood is sustainably sourced remains a priority for consumers despite pressure on household budgets.

Skipjack tuna school of tunas Katsuwonus pelamis. Image shot 08/2008.

Luciano Pirovano, Chief Sustainability Officer, Bolton Food & Tri Marine said: “The trend is clear. Sustainability is becoming a key element of overall brand equity and product quality. So, it’s a must.”

The data on tinned tuna is revealed in a new annual publication from the MSC. The Sustainable Tuna Yearbook is an authoritative analysis on the world’s market for sustainable tuna. It shows the progress and impact of MSC certification on the water, in markets and communities across the world. It also profiles the leading brands around the world driving MSC labelled product growth, showing how they’re meeting consumer expectations to offer sustainable seafood.

The total amount of tuna caught every year has been steadily increasing since the 1950’s, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Its latest State of the World’s Fisheries (SOFIA) report shows more than 2.8 million tonnes of live weight Skipjack tuna, and more than 1.5 million tonnes of live weight Yellowfin were caught in 2020. An updated SOFIA report is due to be published in June 2024.

At the end of 2023, MSC certified tuna was around 33% of the total global catch. Including fisheries that are engaged with the MSC to improve their practices but not fully certified brought that figure to 53%.

Research showing that a third of the stocks of the seven principal tuna species were being fished at biologically unsustainable levels led the UN in 2016 to designate May 2 as World Tuna Day to raise awareness that the stocks of tuna fish were threatened by overwhelming demand. Since then, many fisheries have shown a huge commitment to improving practices to ensure the sustainability of tuna. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation’s recent stock report showed 86% of global tuna catch was coming from stocks at healthy levels.

Nicolas Guichoux MSC’s Chief Programme Officer said: “It’s no surprise canned tuna is such a popular product – it’s delicious, healthy and, in these tough financial times, it offers value for money. But it’s important that it doesn’t become a victim of its own success.

“To safeguard the supply of tuna we need to make sure it’s being fished in a sustainable way. The increase in sales of tuna that has been sustainably sourced shows just how much shoppers understand that.”

Tuna are migratory and so stocks can be shared by many different countries, who must reach agreement on the management measures needed to ensure fishing is sustainable. This can be a significant challenge for tuna fisheries and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). For example, the Western Central Pacific is home to more than half the world’s skipjack tuna – the most popular tuna species. 26 nations responsible for tuna fishing in that region are currently in long-term negotiations to agree rules designed to ensure that tuna stocks never become overfished.