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Overfishing?

Overfished or not? Assessing labels and claims

Last reviewed: December 2011

When shopping for fish, consider species that are abundant, well managed, fished or farmed in ways that minimize harm to the environment, and low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. The perfect certifying group or label would address all aspects of sustainability, verify species through DNA tests, and have no vested interest in the products it certifies. Each of the groups or labels listed below can help in guiding you to sustainable seafood. Note that the “organic” label is not necessarily meaningful for seafood, for which a USDA organic standard is still under development. For more on labeling, go to www.GreenerChoices.org.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

www.montereybayaquarium.org

Monterey Bay Aquarium logo
Monterey Bay Aquarium logo

Helpful

The Seafood Watch pocket guide, available as a free download, grades species based on the use of sustainable fishing or farming methods. Species are marked as green (best choices), yellow (good alternatives), or red (avoid). It also provides information on mercury and other contaminants.

 

Country of Origin

www.ams.usda.gov/cool

Country of Origin label
Country of Origin label

Helpful

The label indicates geographic source and whether the seafood was wild or farmraised. Country of Origin labeling must be followed by full-line grocery stores, supermarkets, and club warehouse stores but not by fish markets and restaurants.

 

Dolphin Safe

www.dolphinsafe.gov

Dolphin Safe logo
Dolphin Safe logo

Somewhat helpful

The logo may differ among products, and companies decide whether to follow the standard. It indicates that steps were taken to reduce the likelihood of catching, killing, or injuring dolphins while fishing for tuna.

 

Marine Stewardship Council

www.msc.org

Marine Stewardship Council logo
Marine Stewardship Council logo

Somewhat helpful

Concerns overfishing and sustainability of wild-caught seafood. Some species of MSC-certified fish have been documented at various points in the supply chain, in some cases by DNA testing.

 

Safe Harbor

www.safeharborfoods.com

Safe Harbor logo
Safe Harbor logo

Somewhat helpful

Certifies that mercury content is below certain levels for each species (but those levels still may not be safe for pregnant women and young children). It also checks for generic E. coli and salmonella in shellfish, and for certain types of radiation in fish from Japanese waters. The group visually confirms the species of fish samples that companies have sent it.