Choosing the best fish to eat can be complicated. People browsing seafood counters or restaurant menus may wonder whether certain fish are both safe and sustainable. In many cases, the more a person knows, the more questions arise: Is this wild or farmed? Local or imported? Produced in an environmentally responsible way? High in mercury? Tainted with antibiotics and chemicals?
In light of these questions, there is a demand for straightforward guidance on seafood. To address the sustainability questions surrounding fish, a number of certification programs have developed sets of standards and labels to evaluate and then market “environmentally friendly” or “sustainably produced” fish.
Meanwhile, many seafood restaurants and retailers have begun sourcing their seafood predominantly or exclusively from fisheries or companies that have been “certified” by eco-labels in an effort to promote their environmental awareness about seafood sustainability to consumers. California’s state government has committed to implement a seafood sustainability program that is based on the standards from some of these eco-labels.
But what do these labels really mean? We examined various seafood certification programs and unfortunately, these labels do not always represent what consumers expect.
Our research reveals a variety of flaws and inadequacies associated with the eco-labels analyzed and suggests that private labels may not be the most appropriate means to convey neutral, credible information about seafood. While the intent to raise awareness about sustainability among seafood suppliers and fish farms is admirable, it is questionable whether these labels are actually increasing sustainability in the marketplace.
This report proposes that in order to provide consumers with much-needed, unbiased and well-regulated information, the federal government should introduce and oversee standards for eco-labeled seafood. Until that time, consumers can use our guidelines and recommendations on safer seafood choices, as well as tips on other seafood-related concerns at the end of this report.