Demand for sustainable seafood increases during COVID-19 pandemic

The demand for seafood sustainability certification is increasing. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand grew. Sustainability certification is not yet a basic buyer requirement in all European markets. But we expect that within 10 years, it will become a standard requirement for exporting seafood to Europe.

In 2020, the offer of sustainably certified seafood products in Europe grew. Around 887,000 tonnes of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified seafood was sold on the European market. That is 13% more than the year before. Around 9,750 ASC-certified seafood products were available in Europe, 32% more than in 2019. The MSC and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) are the 2 main sustainability certification standards for seafood in Europe.

Increase in retail sales

The growth in certified products on offer in 2020 is not a surprise. The retail sector has traditionally been responsible for the demand for sustainable seafood. And with restaurants closed in 2020, retail sales of seafood hugely increased. Consumers who usually eat seafood in restaurants started cooking it at home. In 2020, the offer of ASC-certified pacific white shrimp products sold in Europe increased by 27%. Also, luxury products were sold via retail. For example, the offer of ASC-certified black tiger shrimp products increased by 19%.

As restaurants slowly re-open, consumers are eating out again. It is not clear if sustainable products will become the standard in the foodservice sector. But in North-western Europe, restaurants that market themselves as selling only sustainable seafood are becoming more popular. And at the European Union level, there are efforts to work with top chefs to promote the consumption of sustainably produced seafood. Some importers for the foodservice sector claim they are slowly seeing a shift towards sustainable seafood. “We see an increase in demand for sustainable products in the foodservice sector. But, the demand also depends on the price gap between certified and non-certified products,” said an importer from the Netherlands.

Sustainable seafood is not only good for the environment

Seafood sustainability is important for the environment but also social issues. Seafood production can involve forced labour and dangerous working conditions. The documentary Seaspiracy highlights these issues. Seafood production and processing thus need social compliance certification.

Sustainability certification standards like MSC and ASC focus on both the environmental and social impact of seafood production. Exporters can also find programmes for social issues throughout supply chains. Examples include the SA8000 or the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). The SA8000 Standard is the world’s leading social certification programme. The BSCI provides companies with a social auditing method. This helps them improve working conditions in their supply chain.

Opportunities for exporters

The increase in sustainability certification varies in different European regions. But it is clear that the market for sustainably produced seafood is expanding in Europe. Some experts predict that sustainability certification will be a requirement for all seafood exports to Europe within the next 10 years. This means that more and more buyers will require certified seafood. As a result, there will be more opportunities for exporters to meet this demand. As an exporter, you should take the necessary steps for your business so you can offer sustainably-produced seafood to Europe. 

Learn more

Learn more about the demand for sustainable seafood on the European market. Also, read the CBI trends study to find out about the increasing number of commitments to sustainable seafood in the European retail and foodservice sector. For more on requirements fish and seafood must meet for the European market, read the CBI buyer requirements study.

For a complete overview of certification schemes in the sector, see the ITC Standards Map. It shows you relevant schemes for different products, sectors, origins and destinations.

Seafood TIP wrote this news article for CBI.

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