50 for the Future – Sustainable seafood

Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Julia Brooks, Market Insight Analyst at Seafish, explains the steps necessary to move towards a more sustainable seafood industry.


Number 30: Inspire a step-change in consumer habits to eliminate the demand for unsustainably sourced seafood


Sustainability is now the backbone of the seafood industry thanks to years and years of research and campaigning to ensure fish stocks are at healthy levels. However, engaging consumers with the sustainability message has always been a challenge. Whilst the public have expressed concerns about the future of the oceans and overfishing, this is not always reflected in their buying behaviour with many still choosing price over sustainable values.

Seafish researched each stage along the ‘out of home eating’ value chain and found that whilst there was knowledge, awareness and activity at the supply end, this was not always evident in the customer-facing retail outlets. In fact, sustainability messages on menus has fallen over the last year. It transpires that outlets are having to focus more on addressing diners concerns about the taste, texture, smell, presence of bones and value of seafood dishes compared to other proteins – basically, will they enjoy it and will it fill them up as much as the other proteins available on the menu? Sustainability is simply not a spontaneous consideration for diners, hence it dropping off the menu.

However, when prompted, 49% of surveyed consumers claimed that knowing the seafood was from a sustainable source would make them more likely to choose it; which creates a great opportunity for positive change when combined with the trend for diners perceiving food with a detailed provenance as a better quality and healthier option.

Look for the blue MSC label on sustainable fish and seafood in shops and restaurants. © Nick Hanna, Alamy

But the challenge for food outlets is how to address diners’ general concerns regarding seafood whilst also creating a demand for sustainable options. This can be achieved by outlets employing a combination of consistent verbal and written communication and education tools, helping to build an engaging story about the sustainability of their produce. Through the use of menus, displays and knowledgeable waiting staff, diners can be inspired to buy seafood and try new things, whether it's different species, preparations or flavour combinations.

Diners generally trust the chef to be the expert and to create a delicious, nutritious meal that they could not reproduce at home, but they need reassurance that they are making the right choice. The key is to positively anticipate diners’ concerns regarding the preparation of the dish, the presence of bones etc., and its efficacy in satisfying their appetite.

If all of this is supported by “sustainable” sourcing messages, consumers' engagement increases and they perceive a higher quality of produce, with greater health benefits and greater intrinsic value, thus increasing the demand for sustainable seafood in foodservice.

What is clear is that to positively influence consumers behaviour, business owners and chefs need to deliver an engaging sustainability message to their customers at the point of purchase.

North Sea cod was once the poster boy for unsustainable fishing. © Hans Hillewaert, Creative Commons

A great opportunity to harness these principles in Scotland would be with North Sea cod. It had become the “poster boy” for unsustainable fishing and was replaced on many menus; however thanks to improved management of the fishery, stocks have returned to a sustainable level and should gain MSC accreditation next year.

Therefore, by using a combination of the communication and education tools mentioned above, food outlets could engage their diners in a positive, sustainability story and also benefit from their perceived quality and health associations, creating a demand for sustainably sourced North Sea cod from a sustainably managed Scottish seafood industry.

Let us know your thoughts by emailing thefuture@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.

Julia Brooks is a Market Insight Analyst at Seafish, whose mission is to support a profitable, sustainable and socially responsible future for the seafood industry.

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In this week's 50 for the Future article, Seafish's Julia Brooks explains the steps necessary to move towards a more sustainable seafood industry.

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