Feeling Eco-Anxiety? We Talk To An Ocean Pro

June 6, 2024

As June 8, World Ocean Day 2024, draws near, a newly-released Globescan study commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council reveals record-high levels of pessimism and eco-anxiety among Canadians. We chatted with  MSC program director for Canada Kurtis Hayne to learn why, and discover what we can do. —Noa Nichol

The recent Globescan study commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council reveals record-high levels of pessimism among Canadians regarding ocean health. What do you believe are the main factors contributing to this growing eco-anxiety?

Our new study reveals that 93% of Canadian seafood consumers report being worried about the state of the world’s ocean – a sentiment that’s on the rise since 2022.

One of the possible factors contributing to this also emerges from the data: climate change ranks #1 in terms of overarching environmental concerns among Canadians, and a large majority of them are both aware of the link between climate change and ocean protection (82%), as well as report that extreme weather events have increased their awareness of the importance of ocean protection (67%). We can assume that, as Canadians increasingly see and feel the impacts of climate change first-hand, so too does their eco-anxiety.

Good news is that one of the best antidotes to anxiety is taking action. And there are many small things we can all do everyday to help our ocean:

  • Don’t give into the pessimism and keep doing the daily things you know are right for the ocean and planet. We don’t all need to be eco-warriors to make a difference.
  • Add MSC certified sustainable seafood to a plant-forward diet. It’s a highly nutritious and lower impact protein choice.
  • Reduce unnecessary consumption, of everything (it will save you money too!)

Pollution, overfishing, and the impacts of climate change were identified as the top concerns for Canadians. How is the Marine Stewardship Council addressing these specific issues?

The MSC is an environmental non-profit dedicated to addressing and solving overfishing. We work with fisheries around the world to ensure they operate sustainably, and to-date, 15% of the world’s total seafood catch is MSC certified sustainable.

But the impact of our work also has potential knock-on benefits to both climate change and ocean pollution.  

Climate change because, together with our partners, we work to preserve wild fish and seafood that naturally has a lower carbon and environmental footprint than land-based animal proteins. Thus, we’re making sure this more sustainable protein choice is available for generations to come so it won’t need to be replaced by more carbon intensive proteins.

In addition, MSC certified sustainable fisheries help protect ocean biodiversity which in turn helps the ocean stay healthy so it can perform ecosystem services like regulate the Earth’s climate and produce more than 50% of the oxygen we breathe. In the last 3 years alone MSC certified sustainable fisheries have implemented over 400 improvements that benefit marine biodiversity.

On ocean pollution, our Fisheries Standard requires that certified fisheries minimize ghost gear (fishing gear that is abandoned, lost or discarded at sea), and know the impact of any lost gear on habitats and ecosystems. 

With almost half of Canadians fearing that their favorite fish or seafood might not be available in 20 years, what steps can individuals and communities take to help mitigate this concern and support sustainable fishing practices?

Simple! When buying wild seafood, look for the MSC blue fish label. Our choices at the supermarket send a message to the industry that we want and expect to see seafood that is certified sustainable by a credible organization.

This choice supports the fisheries that invest in making sure they meet the MSC standard for sustainable fishing, that continually improve their practices, and that also contribute to crucial research and marine science.

In fact, 5% of royalties from sales of MSC labeled products products allows us to fund projects and research that improve fisheries and help us better understand life in our ocean.  To date, the MSC has awarded $5 million USD to such projects.

The survey indicates a decline in optimism, with only 37% of Canadians believing we can save the oceans from irreparable damage in 20 years. What actions or policies do you think are crucial to reversing this trend and restoring hope among the public?

The world we live in seems increasingly anxious and unpredictable on many levels, which invariably impacts public optimism and pessimism. Organizations like the MSC that are working on ocean and environmental solutions simply need to double down on their efforts while taking special care to ensure they can measurably prove they are making progress. We also need to communicate that progress clearly, transparently, and often.

For anyone interested in learning more about the tangible benefits of sustainable fishing, the MSC website has a wealth of information.

Canadians showed increased trust in scientists, NGOs, and independent certifications for ocean protection, but less trust in governments, retailers, and large companies. How can these less trusted entities improve their efforts and regain public trust in their commitment to ocean conservation?

Trust can be a highly complex (and volatile) sentiment – there is so much at play regarding how the public feel about governments and businesses. Activities in one area can, rightly or wrongly, positively or negatively, impact perceived performance in other, unrelated areas.

For example, a little-known fact is that across all its stores in Canada, Loblaw has over 200 seafood products that are either MSC or ASC certified as sustainably fished or responsibly farmed – more than any other Canadian retailer. The company also has ambitious climate action targets and well-documented performance metrics all aimed at achieving their net-zero goal by 2050. Unfortunately, all this work can get easily overshadowed by debates about the cost of living and price of groceries.

All this to say that many factors can impact trust, and sometimes companies have to weather bigger storms before the public is ready to hear about their environmental goals and performance. In the meantime, working collaboratively with credible non-profits and scientific organizations will help governments and retailers work toward the progress we all need to see on sustainability and protecting our ocean and planet.

The survey highlights that 74% of Canadians want clear labeling of sustainability claims by an independent organization. How can the MSC and other certifying bodies enhance transparency and public confidence in seafood sustainability labels?

While we can’t speak for other certifications or seafood labels, our survey shows that Canadians who know the MSC have a high level of trust in our organization (76% trust our claims). This is perhaps because our program is scientifically based, and we go to great lengths to measure and demonstrate with real data that we are making positive progress toward our goal of protecting the ocean and improving fisheries.

Canadians have a role to play too though. Especially in the age of disinformation, we need to do a bit of due diligence ourselves. That means asking questions (like what makes your seafood sustainable?) and looking at a company or brand’s website to see if and how they back up their sustainability claims.

To know what seafood sustainability labels are credible, look on their website for 1) a clearly stated mission and vision and 2) reports that measure their impact and progress with data.

As World Ocean Day 2024 approaches, what are some practical, everyday actions that Canadians can take to contribute to the health and sustainability of our oceans?

  • Keep doing the daily things you know are right for the ocean and planet. Don’t give into the pessimism and know that every small action ladders up to a bigger positive impact.
  • Add sustainable seafood with the MSC bleu fish label to a plant-forward diet. It’s a highly nutritious and lower impact protein choice.
  • Reduce unnecessary consumption, of everything (it will save you money too!)


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