As National Ocean Month ends, momentum toward proper stewardship of our marine resources keeps growing, as companies partner with fisheries and scientists to ensure we take only what we need and replenish what we take. Once dismissed as cheap, low quality fare, tinned seafood is all the rage now, and the popularity of these products from brands embracing such practices is a welcome emerging trend among consumers.
Since the start of the pandemic, tinned seafood sales have been on the rise, especially with the abundance of TikTok recipes and tinned seafood boards. The segment has and will continue to grow, with the global canned seafood market expected to reach $50.47 billion in sales by 2030, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9% (Grand View Research April 2022).
So how can we ensure that these nutritious, inexpensive products remain sustainable? The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an organization that works with fisheries across the world to help them become sustainable, and even recover from certain extinction, is helping out.
A recent and meaningful success story involves Spain’s CaA ntabrian anchovies, an important reminder that fisheries are dynamic and can recover. After years of over exploiting the anchovy population and due to poorly managed fisheries, the once abundant supply was depleted and fishing in Cantabria was banned by the European Union. Approximately 3,000 fishermen and more than 60 small, family-run companies faced a bleak future – a future without anchovies and no way to sustain the livelihoods they had known for generations.
The fishery was closed between 2005 and 2010, with no fishing permitted to rebuild anchovy populations. Protecting the fishery also meant protecting the livelihoods of the fishermen and the many women employed in the fishery who prepare and pack anchovies and mend broken nets. Only women are deemed to be skillful enough to manually remove skin and bones from the fish and to lay them into their bed of oil.
By 2015, numerous fishermen and fishing associations had learned about the need for sustainable fishing and understood the MSC’s robust standards. Thanks to the efforts of the Cantabrian fleet, alongside regional governments, scientists and industry, stocks had not just recovered but were thriving. That same year, the Cantabrian anchovy fishery was the first in Europe to receive MSC certification, the world’s most recognized seafood certification and labeling program.
In January 2023, popular tinned fish brand Fishwife Seafood Co. started canning these certified anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea, where the waters produce the world’s highest-quality anchovies, famous for their rich flavor and buttery texture. Caught by the artisanal purse seine fishing method in Europe’s only MSC certified sustainable anchovy fishery, Fishwife’s product packaging includes MSC’s blue fish label, which signifies it has been verified by a third party and comes from a certified sustainable wild fishery.
“This past January, we were incredibly excited to announce that Fishwife met the MSC’s standard for sustainable supply chain sourcing with the launch of our anchovies,” says Becca Millstein, Fishwife’s co-founder and CEO. “We’ve practiced sustainable sourcing at Fishwife since day one, but as the brand continues to grow and show up on more grocery store shelves, we needed to find a way to communicate our sustainability values quickly and effectively to our customers.”
Fishwife began working with the MSC U.S. team on supply chain and product development initiatives about a year ago. “MSC has built a global network of certified sustainable fisheries and corresponding chain of custody holders, and they were eager to connect us – a new brand driving perception and behavior change in the seafood space – with their existing partners.”
To achieve certification and carry the MSC blue fish label on packaging, their supply chain underwent an extensive third-party audit. “Utilizing their extensive network, we’ve been able to connect with several MSC certified fisheries and CoC certified processors to bring more certified-sustainable fisheries into our product line,” says Millstein.
Another tinned fish proponent and MSC ambassador, acclaimed chef Charlotte Langley boasts more than 20 years of celebrated experience in Canada’s culinary scene. In 2014 she began home canning her favorite seafood recipes, spending the next six years perfecting them while searching for purveyors committed to responsible seafood sourcing. In 2018, she joined forces with co-founders Adam Bent and Nate Dunn to launch Scout, bringing these restaurant quality goods to market in Canada and the U.S. in 2019.
Langley champions the importance of seafood sustainability by working closely with small, MSC-certified fisheries and sustainable farms, ensuring every step in their supply chain is transparent, with all products traceable back to their sources. “I wanted to create more than just a food brand; I envisioned Scout as an advocate for ocean stewardship, a promoter of responsible fishing, a supporter of local fishermen and women, and a champion for sustainability in the seafood industry,” says Langley.
“As an industry, we have a duty to the planet and to future generations to ensure our actions today do not compromise the future,” she adds. “As a chef, I’ve always cherished the relationship between the food we consume and the world it originates from. The richness of the ocean’s bounty isn’t lost on me; I see it, feel it, taste it every day. Over time, it became abundantly clear to me that the seafood industry was in dire need of a brand that prioritized sustainability and transparency. Sustainability isn’t a buzzword; it’s a necessity. Scout emerged from this need.”
Langley’s recipes are not your usual sardines in oil. Scout’s gourmet products include Atlantic Canadian lobster, smoked wild pink salmon, rainbow trout with dill, and seafood snacks featuring albacore tuna flavored with chile jalapeño and za’atar. They are delicious right out of the can, and can also be used as ingredients in recipes. Products are available online and in-store at 2,000+ independent and major retailers including Whole Foods Market, Meijer, and Sprouts.
“Through our tinned seafood, we aim to bring our consumers a taste of the sea as it should be – vibrant, diverse, and enduring,” says Langley. “We want to foster a culture of sustainability and ensure the longevity of our oceanic ecosystems for generations to come.”