Labels should guide us.
Don’t be shy or embarrassed! A good fishmonger or conscientious restaurateur will be happy to discuss the subject with you. Don’t hesitate to write to the manager of the supermarket where you shop regularly or leave a message at the restaurant where you have just eaten, whether you were happy or unhappy with their commitment to sustainability.
According to current European legislation, the label must state:
• The common name of the species (the scientific name is optional)
• The production zone
• The production method
To date, the catch information is not required, though new regulations are being discussed by the European Commission.
- Products caught in the sea must state the fishing zone on the label. There are 12 zones defined by the FAO.
- Products caught in fresh water must state on the label the name of the member state or other country where the product originated.
- Farmed products must state on the label the member state or other country where the final processing of the product took place.
Organizations concerned about sustainable fishing believe that to really help the consumer, labels should be much more explicit. Some would like fish served in restaurants to be certified. Studies on how to improve traceability are being carried out in some places.
The issue of eco-certification in the fishing sector is very controversial and provoking increasingly heated debate. According to some international artisanal fishing organizations, eco-certifications are used by certain fishing or fish-farming businesses to “greenwash” unsavory practices. Eco-certifications are often not applied to artisan fishers, still the majority in the world today.
As things stand currently, certification systems are imperfect but without doubt the first step towards a responsible policy for fish consumption. They certainly need to be improved and refined and made more accessible to small-scale fishers and fish farmers, particularly in developing countries, ensuring real fairness in the market.
We should inform ourselves, without naivety, about fish that has been certified by the MSC or other certification body and about organic fish. If we really have no access to short distribution chains between producer to consumer, we can turn to large supermarket chains that have adopted codes of conduct.
Beyond the Label
Farmed shrimp passed off as wild, dab fillets sold as plaice, shark labeled as swordfish or even tuna, striped catfish as cod… False labeling is sadly common in the seafood sector.
If we are only interested in the most popular fish at a global level (swordfish, plaice, cod, hake), we risk buying a different species (cheaper, not yet overfished or unknown to the market) that looks similar to the one we wanted.
Alternatively, a label might have the correct species name, but hide the fact the product was farmed. Shrimp farmed in Thailand, which make up almost 30% of global production, are often exported as “wild species.” Also very common is the sale of farmed salmon as wild.
It has been estimated that in the United States, a third of all the fish and seafood sold is labeled with false information. Depleted resources, illegal fishing, legislation gaps and the general temptation to increase profits through fraud are all factors that have led to more deceitful labels.
I would take out the bullet points and make it a sentence: According to the current European legislation, the label must state the common name of the species, the production zone and the production method.