Britons missing out on vital nutrients from low carbon sustainable seafood
New figures from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) show that ending overfishing could help protect both people and planet by providing essential nutrients that help prevent serious and life-threatening health conditions experienced by millions of Britons.
The figures published in a new MSC briefing on the role of sustainable fishing in feeding a growing global population, show that if all fishing globally was sustainable an additional 16 million tonnes of seafood could be harvested every year. By managing our seas and fisheries better, a greater quantity of healthy, sustainable fish and seafood can support more nutrient rich diets, helping to prevent deficiencies in important nutrients such as zinc, calcium, iron and vitamin B12. More than three million people in the UK, for instance, suffer from B12 deficiency which can lead to poor memory, fatigue and cognitive impairment.
The not-for-profit’s analysis also found that globally, 38 million people are missing out on healthy levels of essential Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), which are mainly found in seafood, could have their daily requirements met if the oceans were fished more sustainably. This could help to reduce deaths from heart disease and strokes, the UK’s first and fourth biggest causes of preventable death.
Currently the British public doesn’t eat enough fish and seafood. Data from a YouGov survey of British consumers commissioned by the MSC shows that only 19% follow the government’s recommended guideline to eat seafood twice a week or more. An additional 26% say they eat a portion of seafood once a week. Over a month, this increases to 71% of British adults who said they eat fish or seafood at least once.
With more than a third of the world’s fish stocks now fished beyond their sustainable limits, the MSC stresses the importance of eating seafood only from sustainable sources, as a way not only to ensure the nutritional benefits of increased catches are realised, but also to protect vital ocean ecosystems.
The positive news for consumers in the UK is that the number of species of sustainable seafood carrying the blue MSC ecolabel in the UK has increased in the last 10 years from 26 to 49, while the volume of MSC labelled products sold each year has increased nearly fivefold, from just over 32,000 tonnes to more than 152,000 tonnes during the same period. This is a result of British retailers committing more than ever before to supporting sustainable fishing.
Gram for gram, wild seafood production is responsible for less than one tenth  of the carbon emissions of red meat and has a lower carbon footprint than cheese or chicken, while also providing some of the most nutritious sources of protein. For instance, mussels (available with an MSC label at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Lidl, and Aldi) are one of the lowest carbon seafoods, while also containing more iron per gram than beef. Mussels are also a great source of micronutrients such as vitamin B12, selenium, chloride, zinc, phosphorus. The traditional British kipper has 10.09g of vitamin D per 100g – which is 100% of recommended daily intake (RDI) for adults. Cornish sardines (available in a can with an MSC label at Waitrose and Tesco) are also a brilliant source of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
The new figures are derived from the Aquatic Foods Composition Database, a product of the Golden Lab at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the most comprehensive global database of more than three and a half thousand aquatic food species and hundreds of nutrients.
Recent studies have also shown that nutrients from seafood are better absorbed and utilised by the body than nutrients in vegetables and food supplements.
George Clark, MSC’s UK Programme Director said:
“If more fisheries are managed sustainably, we can provide more nutritious and low carbon seafood to help prevent many of the most serious health problems in the UK, while at the same time protecting our planet. We know that many UK consumers want to choose food that is both good for them and for the environment, but many are still unsure of the role that sustainable seafood can play in supporting their health and the climate. While people should try to eat the recommended two portions of seafood each week for their health, it’s only when they choose sustainable seafood that they will help protect the environment too.
“In the UK we have some incredible fisheries and communities that have achieved MSC certification, such as Cornish hake, Shetland brown crab and Poole Harbour clams. There’s a fantastic variety of choices for locally and imported fish and seafood in the UK, and great, sustainable choices to make that are both delicious and nutritious.”
This analysis, is being released by the MSC to mark the UN’s 15th World Oceans Day on Thursday 8 June 2023.