What do these terms mean?

These species profiles have been created by GoodFishBadFish, with the help of marine scientist John Ford. We have collated information from state and federal government fisheries assessment reports and from conservation NGOs to give you a look at sustainability from all angles.

Government Assessments
Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS)
NGO Accreditations
…..Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
…..The Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program
Government Stock Assessment Terms
AMCS Terms

Government Assessments

Generally speaking, government assessments examine the status of the fish stock and often do not consider other (environmental) impacts of the fishing process. These impacts are often assessed separately and addressed on a case-by-case basis, and we discuss these in the profile where necessary. It must be emphasised that these issues are acknowledged in Australia and there are many examples of successful management changes that have reduced the fishing impact on the wider environment. These include:

  • Closures to shark and sardine fisheries in SA due to sea lion and dolphin death
  • Seal and turtle exclusion devices on trawl nets in many fisheries
  • Larger mesh sizes and the use of different materials to reduce bycatch and undersized catches in seine net fisheries.

We certainly still have a way to go, however Australian standards are still better than those of the majority of countries from which we import our fish.

Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS)

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (referred to throughout this website as the AMCS) is an independent charity and environmental organisation dedicated to conserving the ocean and it’s wildlife. They publish Australia’s best-known sustainable seafood recommendations -  ‘Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide’ (in print, online and app form). The guide gives a generalised view of the sustainability of species nationally, employing an easy and accessible ‘traffic-light’ system in which species are rated ‘Say No’, ‘Think Twice’ or ‘Better Choice’. 

NGO Accreditations

GoodFishBadFish recognises two major third party sustainability accreditations in Australia – the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Sustainable Australian Seafood Accreditation Program (SASAP). Whilst other international accreditations such as Friends of the Sea are also seen in Australia, there are very few Australian products with such certifications.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the world’s largest and most recognisable sustainable seafood certification scheme. The global organisation works throughout the seafood supply chain to encourage and promote sustainable practices and seafood traceability, engaging fishers, retailers and consumers. Their distinctive blue eco-label identifies products that have been third-party assessed and found to meet the organisation’s standards for sustainable fishery management. While the MSC’s assessment process is not without its critics, the transparency of their certification criteria, community and stakeholder consultation processes and yearly auditing (with reassessment taking place every 5 years) makes the recommendations given by the group robust and credible.

The Sustainable Australian Seafood Assessment Program (SASAP) has been developed out of a partnership between the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The program undertakes in-depth assessment to identify individual seafood products (rather than whole species) that meet their criteria for a sustainable wild-catch fishery or aquaculture operation. This acknowledges that a species may be managed, fished or farmed in a sustainable manner in one place, but exploited in another. To date, SASAP has identified 16 Australian seafood products as sustainable, and the program is being broadened to find more. ACF and SASAP have a long-term goal to develop an outreach program that will educate and aid restaurants in improving the sustainability of their menus.


The terms used by NGO’s and Government agencies can be confusing. In the glossary below, we explain what the terms used in our species profiles really mean.

Government Stock Assessment Terms

Government stock assessments use two terms that may sound very similar, but describe different things: ‘Overfished’ and ‘Subject to Overfishing’. Essentially, ‘Overfished’ refers to total biomass, while ‘Overfishing’ refers the likely outcome of current fishing pressures. Hence, a species may be assessed as Overfished, but Not Subject to Overfishing. This would indicate that the species has historically been over-exploited, but that current fishing pressure has been regulated to aid the rebuilding of stocks. Alternatively, a species may be assessed as Not Overfished, but Subject to Overfishing. This would indicate that current stock biomass is considered good, but that there are concerns that current fishing pressure, if not reduced, could lower stock biomass to the point where it would be considered Overfished.

Depletion (or Stock Depletion) – Reduction in the biomass of a stock.

Overfished – A fish stock with a biomass below the biomass limit reference point determined by the relevant agency. ‘Not Overfished’ implies that the stock is not below the threshold. Now used in Commonwealth fisheries assessments where the classifications ‘fully fished’ or ‘underfished’ were previously used.

Subject to Overfishing – A stock experiencing too much fishing, where the removal rate from the stock is unsustainable. Usually defined as fishing pressure likely to result in an ‘Overfished’ status. It should be noted that some stocks are periodically subjected to overfishing as part of their management, with the intention of reducing numbers to a specific biomass considered suitable for future maintenance of a maximum economic or maximum sustainable yield.

Growth Overfishing – The harvest of too many small fish; where an increase in the legal size limit for the species would result in an overall increase in a fishery’s yield

Recruitment Overfished – The stock has been excessively fished to the point that it is unable to rebuild itself and therefore total biomass falls below a predefined limit.

Environmentally Limited – A stock with reduced biomass due to impacts other than fishing pressure, including environmental factors and ecosystem impacts such as habitat destruction.

Lightly Fished – Describes a fish stock that is not heavily exploited and in which total biomass remains close to the estimated unfished biomass. This rating may apply to a fishery for which there is not a lot of market demand or which has a very low market value, which limits the fishing effort applied to the fishery.

Moderately Fished – Describes a fish stock that is not being heavily exploited, in which catch rates remain less then natural mortality for the species.

Fully Fished – Describes a fish stock for which current catches and fishing pressure are close to optimal (e.g. catches are close to the maximum sustainable yield). Determined when stocks and catch rates remain stable, catch length and age distribution remains stable, and estimates of total biomass remain above a predefined percentage.

Undefined – Status of a fish stock for which no serious attempt has been made to determine exploitation status.

Uncertain – Status of a fish stock that might be overfished or not overfished, subject to overfishing or not subject to overfishing, but for which there is inadequate or inappropriate information to make a reliable assessment.

Underfished – Status of a fish stock that has potential to sustain catches higher than those currently taken. Not applied to stocks where catches have been limited to enable the stock to rebuild.

Sustainable Yield – Catch that can be removed over an indefinite period without reducing the biomass of the stock. This could be either a constant yield from year to year, or a yield that fluctuates in response to changes in abundance.

AMCS Terms

Say No – The AMCS has determined that species in this category should be avoided, due to concerns about overfishing or bycatch issues. Farmed species in this category include all finfish produced using open-pen sea cage aquaculture, whoich the group does not support.

Think Twice – The AMCS has determined that species in this catergory should be purchased sparingly. Wild caught species in this group may be heavily targeted or caught using fishing methods that damage habitat or are associated with high levels of bycatch. If farmed, the aquaculture method used has some conservation challenges.

Better Choice – The AMCS has determined that species in this category are a better choice, as they are not currently overfished, they are generally resilient to fishing pressure at current levels, have a history of stable catches or are caught or farmed using techniques that have a lower environmental impact.


We have used the following principle resources in compilation of the sustainability data on GoodFishBadFish:

Federal Fisheries: Fisheries Status Reports 2012 - Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. www.abares.gov.au

NSW Fisheries: State of Fisheries Resources in NSW 2008/2009 – NSW Department of Industry and Investment www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries

QLD Fisheries: Stock Status of QLDs Fisheries Resources 2011 – Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. www.daff.qld.gov.au

VIC Fisheries: Fishery Status Report 2008 – Fisheries Victoria Management Report Series. Victorian Department of Primary Industries. www.dpi.vic.gov.au.fisheries

TAS Fisheries: Fisheries Assessment Report – Tamania’s Scalefish Fishery 2008/2009. Tasmania Aquaculture and Fisheries Institute. www.imas.utas.edu.au

SA Fisheries: Ecological Assessment of the South Australian Marine Scalefish Fishery 2011. SA Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. www.sardi.sa.gov.au

WA Fisheries: State of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Report 2011. WA Department of Fisheries. www.fisheries.wa.gov.au