Sustainable Seafood Labels “Are Often Misapplied”

Written by on November 17, 2014 in Fish, Policy & Ocean Law

At the Science and Sustainability Forum (SSF) held last month in New Orleans, Louisiana, scientists and fishery managers called for a re-evaluation of seafood ecolabelling guidelines on the grounds that the labels are often misapplied and create “market barriers” for coastal fisheries and communities.

Fishing boat. Photo credit: NOAA.

Fishing boat. Photo credit: NOAA.

“What we have seen is that many of these [ecolabelling] schemes are creating difficulties for access of small scale fisheries particularly in developing states to international markets,” Fabio Hazin, Professor of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of Universidade Federal Rural of Pernambuco, said in a news release. “This is a very worrying trend and we have to come up with a solution for that.”

The problem is that the cost of private third-party ecolabelling is too high for many well-managed fisheries, even in developed countries.

“Only ten percent of global fisheries have gone through private ecolabelling programs,” said Thor Lassen, president of Ocean Trust and a principle organizer for the Forum. “There simply is not enough money to certify all fisheries in the world, nor does it make sense. We have to be more pragmatic when it comes to the ecolabelling of seafood products.”

Data collection and stock assessment already occurs by law under current fisheries management regulations, which is why many forum participants discussed the possibility of creating ecolabelling guidelines within the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Creating guidelines to ensure that fisheries are sustainable managed on state and national levels would be more inclusive and less expensive.

Ray Hilborn from the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences reported that where fisheries are actively managed and we have adequate data, stocks are being managed sustainably.

“In each case, science supports the ability of the existing management systems to sustain food from the sea,” Hilborn said.

Solutions to this problem include more clearly defining the term “sustainable” and fixing the “mismatch of standards” that exist for large-scale and small-scale fisheries.

To learn more about SSF, read the full news release: Scientists Challenge Seafood Ecolabeling & Sustainability Standards.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. The problem of market barriers by ecolablelling (to name it: by MSC) has been perceived years ago and was one of the reasons why the alternative certification scheme «Friend of the Sea» (FOS) showed up in 2005. FOS criteria are at least as strict as the ones of MSC, but certification is much less complicated and takes but a small fraction of time and money MSC demands. While MSC (at least on paper) requests that all stakeholders targeting or concerned by tageting a particular species in a particular region are dedicated, FOS concentrates on the fishery (or on the fish farm) willing to comply with the criteria) and on the actual state of the fish stocks concerned – obviously much easier to reach by artisanal fisheries which indeed constitute the bigger proportion of FOS certified fisheries