The number of programs to certify and rate the sustainability of seafood has grown in the past decade. Eco-labels and eco-ratings are meant to act as shorthand to help you make environmentally better choices. There are now more than a dozen programs worldwide.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and ratings often change as fisheries improve or worsen in their sustainability performance over time. Some fisheries, especially those with small-scale or artisanal fishermen, may not be certified or rated because of the relatively high assessment cost or lack of scientific data, even though the fishermen adhere to sustainable practices. In other cases, a fish deemed good by one program may be rated bad by another.
To help navigate this marketplace, we’ve put together this guide to the four programs currently in use to certify or rate seafood traceable through ThisFish. We describe each program, their criteria and how they compare to one another. Ultimatey, individual consumers need to decide which program is right for them.
The sustainability criteria among the four programs are similar. They focus on fishing’s direct impact on fish species and marine habitats, and consider the effectiveness of fisheries management such as whether there is adequate scientific research, monitoring and enforcement. The four programs are also similar in what they don’t take into account: none assesses animal welfare, treatment of workers (fair trade), community benefits, toxin levels in seafood, or the carbon footprint of the fishing industry. They do not consider broader environmental and social impacts, but focus on fish conservation and marine habitat.
Despite having similar criteria, the four programs often rate the sustainability of the same seafood differently. A fish certified as sustainable by MSC, for example, may not be recommended by Ocean Wise. The reason is that each program conducts assessments, weighs their criteria and communicates their results in a different way. By way of example, the following table compares the eco-ratings for 10 North American fisheries.
MSC is a substantially different system because it is a certification standard for both sustainable fishing and traceable seafood. Third-party certifying bodies, which are authorized by MSC, conduct the fishery assessments and traceability audits. MSC also only certifies fisheries in which the fishing industry and/or government pay for an assessment. Because of its traceability standard, MSC can certify seafood coming from a fishery in a specific area. In contrast, the other programs typically provide an overall rating for a given species by country, state or province.
In general, traceability can help eco-rating programs by enabling them to provide more specific ratings for a fish species depending on where and how it was caught. In this way, traceability improves the accuracy and quality of information which, in turn, helps you make more informed choices about the seafood you eat.
Here is a list of eco-rating systems popular around the world. As Thisfish expands, we’ll be adding the relevant eco-ratings to new fisheries.
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