Confusion surrounding seafood labeling is the most prohibitive factor when attempting to select sustainable seafood. Without knowing what we’re buying, making a choice on what to purchase becomes impossible. Clear labeling and increased traceability of seafood provides consumers with the information needed to choose sustainable species with confidence and avoid those that are overfished or caught using destructive techniques.
To make an informed choice, we need to know:
- The standardised name of the fish or species
- The fishing technique used, or method of aquaculture
- The country of origin, or even more specific details such as the catch area
These are the basics, but some organizations go further in their labeling demands. The Australian Marine Conservation Society would like the companies farming or fishing the species named, because as they point out:
“Those who catch or farm fish should be accountable for the methods they use. Naming the source company would encourage each fishery to excel in environmental management and gain a marketing advantage. Similarily, environmentally destructive companies could be avoided if the public could identify who they were.”
In Australia, country of origin labeling is now legally required for seafood products. This is a step in the right direction for seafood traceability, however it applies only to retailers, with restaurants not required to inform customers where their seafood comes from. The best you can do is ask questions and express your desire for more information and clearer labeling on menus.
To guarantee the sustainability of a species, we first need to be able to identify the species accurately. Many species have several names which may vary from state to state or be used by retailers to market otherwise unpopular fish. Unfortunately, this makes the task of the ethical consumer looking for sustainable species more difficult. I know Orange Roughy is unsustainable, but what about this Deep Sea Perch at my retailer? (It’s the same fish guys!)
Similarily, many fish are marketed under very generic names, such as ‘Bream’ or ‘Cod’. These names might refer to many different species, some of which will be more sustainable choices then others.
To combat this, species names have been standardised by the Australian Fish Names Committee under Seafood Services Australia, a joint government and seafood industry initiative. The standard sets out one name for each species to be used nationally and across all stages of the supply chain, whether it is caught locally or imported. Their ‘Fishnames‘ website is a great resource for checking out the correct names for your seafood.
Seafood Services Australia has developed the ‘Fish Names Brand Scheme’ to compliment and promote the Standard. Look for this logo as it guarantees that the business is committed to using the correct names on all of its seafood products.
You should, however, be able to find this out at any retailer. If you think the labeling at your fishmonger or restaurant is confusing or misleading, ask them to identify the species on offer by its standarised name. If they can’t help, shop elsewhere.
On its website, FSANZ gives seven reasons why fish labeling is an important issue, including “Consumers have a right to make informed choices when purchasing so must have confidence in correct labeling”. See the full list of reasons here.