50 Stories: Making fishing environmentally responsible

On April 29, 2011, WWF celebrated 50 years of environmental conservation. Join us as we highlight 50 stories in 50 days, looking back at what we’ve achieved together and looking forward to another 50 years.
The cod and chips you ate on the shore, fending off the seagulls, during the endless summer holidays of your childhood.
The sushi restaurant where you went on the night you got engaged.
And the families from islands and the coasts of continents all over the world, who for thousands of years have set out to sea in search of food.
We think these things are important. We also know a healthy ocean teeming with life is essential for people and nature. That’s why we’ve done so much to promote sustainable fishing.

MSC certified seafood product, Switzerland (c) WWF-Canon/Elma Okic
What’s at stake?
The world’s oceans produce 70% of our oxygen. They influence weather systems, support economies and feed people.
Nearly a billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, and fishing is the principal livelihood for over 200 million people around the world.
The sea seems a place of limitless bounty. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Irresponsible fishing is currently the biggest single threat to our oceans. Over three-quarters of wild-capture fisheries are already exploited to the limit of what’s sustainable, or beyond.
Destructive fishing methods, such as cyanide poisoning and the blasting of coral reefs, are still widely used. And each year, millions of tonnes of unwanted, untargeted marine animals are caught by indiscriminate fishing gear. These animals are called “bycatch” or “incidental catch,” and are often thrown back into the ocean – weakened, dying or dead.
We urgently need to conserve marine habitats and start using environmentally responsible fishing methods to give our bays and seas the chance to recover. And not just for wildlife, but for coastal communities, indigenous peoples for whom fishing is a way of life, and all of us who want wild-caught fish and shellfish kept on menus and oceans thriving.
The story so far
In 1996 WWF started an initiative with Unilever, at the time the world’s largest buyer of frozen white fish, to change the way fish are caught, sold and marketed. We established the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Now an independent non-profit organization, the MSC is the world’s leading eco-certification and eco-labelling programme for wild-capture seafood. It works with fisheries, seafood processors, retailers, food service companies, chefs and restaurants, fisheries managers, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choices in wild-caught seafood.
Worldwide, more than 8,000 seafood products bear the blue fish tick MSC eco-label, meaning each can be traced back to a certified fishery. The market for MSC-certified seafood is estimated to be worth over US$2 billion annually.
WWF is working in other ways to conserve the places we’ve identified as the most important marine biodiversity hotspots. We’re working to improve ocean health by promoting effectively managed marine protected areas, clamping down on illegal fishing, reducing the unintended capture of threatened species in fisheries, cleaning up shipping emissions and limiting the impacts of other activities on the marine environment.
Did you know?
Over 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each year after becoming entangled in fishing nets. It’s the single largest cause of death for small cetaceans.
Facts and stats

  • 200 million – people whose livelihoods depend on fishing
  • US$ 2 billion – annual retail value of MSC-certified seafood
  • < 1% — area of the ocean that’s protected

What next?
We’re continuing to provide seafood producers with technical assistance to assess and adjust their operations so they can achieve MSC certification. We’re working with our seafood and fishing sector partners to change their corporate seafood sourcing policies in order to improve practices in and on the water. And we’re educating consumers about how smarter purchasing can help preserve marine ecosystems.

  • Loblaw: Canada’s largest retailer has committed to 100% responsible seafood sourcing of all categories of wild-capture and ‘farmed’ seafood by the end of 2013.With their considerable buying power behind us, we’re working together to shift the global seafood market and the fishing industry towards sustainability.

But there’s still much more to be done to recover the health of our oceans and safeguard seafood supplies for tomorrow. Other highlights include:

  • WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative particularly seeks to move four major, global fishery types – whitefish, tuna, shrimp, and forage (or reduction) – towards long-term sustainability.
  • Targeting tuna: Together with eight of the world’s largest tuna canning companies, representing over 50% of global canned tuna, WWF launched the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) to support long-term sustainability of tuna fisheries and marine ecosystems.
  • Lobbying for better ocean policies: We’re campaigning for reform of the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, which is being reviewed in 2012. It’s a once-in-a-decade chance to end overfishing within EU waters and other places where European vessels fish.
  • Conserving the most critical habitats: Less than 1% of the ocean is protected. We’re working with scientists and governments to identify the most important habitats and implement conservation plans to protect marine life while allowing sustainable use.
  • Improving lives and livelihoods: No one has more at stake in the conservation of marine biodiversity than those who depend on the sea for survival. We work with local partners to ensure that the rights, customs and livelihoods of communities that fish sustainably are respected and preserved.
  • Promoting smarter fishing gear: Bycatch can often be reduced by making simple changes to fishing gear so that fewer non-target and juvenile species are caught. In 2004, WWF joined fishermen, industry leaders and scientists to launch a global competition called Smart Gear to find the most practical, innovative design for fishing gear that reduces bycatch.

What you can do
You can easily identify fish that comes from certified fisheries by looking for the blue MSC eco-label. Find out more about MSC.
Be part of the celebration!