Seafood certifications are designed to help end-buyers have more transparency into the quality and sustainability of their seafood. While these seafood eco-labels fall well short of providing the full sustainability picture, they do provide some valuable information to consumers about the products available to them and can help them choose more sustainable alternatives.
Here are the top seafood eco-labels you’re likely to see at the market:
Aquaculture Stewardship Council
What it means: The ASC label is specific to aquaculture – fish farms. According to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, “The on-pack label demonstrates to consumers that their seafood comes from farms that limit their impacts on the environment and the community.” Learn more about their standards here.
Seafood it applies to: 17 species groups: [abalone; bivalves (clams, mussels, oyster, scallop); flatfish; freshwater trout; pangasius; salmon; seabass, seabream, meagre; seriola and cobia; shrimp; tilapia; tropical marine finfish] and there is also a joint ASC-MSC standard for seaweed.
Where you can find it: You’ll most likely see the ASC eco-label on packaged and fresh seafood in a market.
Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices
What it means: A BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) eco-label on retail packaging means the seafood came from a “BAP Certified” aquaculture facility. To be BAP certified an operations must meet the BAP defined standards for:
- Food Safety
- Social Accountability
- Environmental Responsibility
- Animal Health and Welfare
Seafood it applies to: Farmed mollusks, finned fish, and crustaceans. BAP also has guidelines and standards for processed seafoods, hatcheries and nurseries.
Where you can find it: You can find BAP Certified seafood in most grocery stores, on packaged and fresh seafood.
Canada Organic Aquaculture Standards
What it means: The Canada Organic logo on a seafood product means the product has met Canada’s aquaculture standard, which lays out the “principles and management standards of organic production systems and provides lists of substances that are allowed for use in organic production systems”.
Seafood it applies to: This standard can be applied to any seafood that meets the outlined requirements.
Where you can find it: On Canadian products
Other notes: This PDF outlines the specifics of the Canada Organic qualifications. They are based on these 4 principles and do have specific requirements for production, procedures, permitted substances, etc.:
Principle of health – Organic production should sustain and enhance the health of water, soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.
Principle of ecology – Organic production should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
Principle of fairness – Organic production should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
Principle of care – Organic production should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
Friend of the Sea
What it means: Products with the Friend of The Sea certification label are the result of a third-party audit that follows the Friend of The Sea criteria. Their criteria evaluates seafood for social, environmental, and sustainable practices. Some of the criteria include:
For Wild-Caught Products
- Target stock not exploited
- Maximum 8% discard of bycatch
- No bycatch of endangered species
- No impact on seabed
- Yearly carbon footprint reduction
- Social accountability
For Farmed Products
- No impact on critical habitat (mangroves, wetlands, etc.)
- Escapes and bycatch reduction
- Compliance of water quality parameters
- No GMO, no growth hormones
- Social accountability
- Yearly carbon footprint reduction
Seafood it applies to: Both farmed and wild-caught seafood.
Where you can find it: You can find this label on various types of seafood products, as seen here:
(Friend of the Sea Labels – Source: friendofthesea.org)
Other notes: Beyond conventional seafood products, Friend of the Sea certifies other industries related to our oceans such as sustainable tourism, restaurants, and even UV creams. You can browse the industries and products they certify on their website.
Marine Stewardship Council
What it means: Seafood with the MSC label comes from fisheries that have been independently assessed on its impacts to wild fish populations and the ecosystems they’re part of. These fisheries either meet or are on their way to meeting “the best practice in sustainability”. The MSC framework for sustainability complies with the recommendations of various international organizations including:
- The UN FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing
- Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)
- ISEAL’s Code of Good Practices
- ISO – International Standards Organization
- WTO – World Trade Organization
The 3 core principles MSC is based on are:
- Sustainable fish stocks
- Minimizing environmental impact
- Effective fisheries management
You can dig deeper into the specifics of the MSC standards on their website.
Seafood it applies to: Wild capture seafood and seaweed.
Where you can find it: On products sold in supermarkets and in restaurants.
Other notes: It’s important to note that seafood with this label may come from a fishery that is not yet sustainable. It may still be under the process of meeting the requirements of MSC’s sustainability framework.
What it means: Products with Naturland’s certification have met the standards for organic production which are based on sustainable management related to social and environmental responsibility. Naturland’s certification framework seeks to meet sustainability based on these three areas:
- Ecological – the integrity of the ecosystem that fosters the fishery is maintained long-term
- Social – fair working conditions for employees and the living conditions of corresponding communities are not adversely affected
- Economic – “the marketing of fish encourages stable business relationships”
The full explanation of standards is available here.
Seafood it applies to: Aquaculture – fish and crustaceans such as mussels.
Where you can find it:
Other notes: You can read the full PDF of Naturland’s standards for aquaculture products here.
How Extensive Are Eco Labels?
Consumers often assume an eco-label represents total sustainability. In reality, most seafood eco-labels DO represent better practices than average but DO NOT represent products that come from truly sustainable fisheries. A 2010 review by the FTC showed that most seafood eco-labels had “ambiguous or non-transparent criteria” around their qualification standards.
Key Takeaway – buying seafood that is certified is almost always better than seafood that is not (when you don’t know the source). However, we should not assume the seafood is sustainable because it has one or more eco-labels.