Frequently Asked Questions

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood is seafood that is from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production into the long-term without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems. The specific definition varies between fisheries and aquaculture. For fisheries, a species can be considered sustainable if:

  • it is not over-fished.
  • catch methods employed do not augment the depletion of vulnerable/endangered species (e.g. whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, other fish) damage the habitat (e.g. coral reef), or generate wasted catch (bycatch).
  • the fishery is well managed.

  • An aquaculture operation is sustainable if:

  • minimal amounts of wild fish are used in feeds.
  • it does not pollute the environment.
  • it does not affect wild animals via disease, competition, inter-breeding. the farm/industry is well managed.



How were assessment criteria developed?

A team of scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium developed a list of sustainable seafood as part of the 1997-1999 "Fishing for Solutions" exhibit and this list evolved into the Seafood Watch pocket guide for consumers.


Who writes the sustainability reports that FishWise uses to produce seafood recommendations?

Most seafood recommendations are written by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s (MBA) Seafood Watch program staff, a team of dedicated ocean researchers. Some reports are written by FishWise’s Science staff, while others are written by external consultants commissioned on contract by the MBA. Staff members receive only their salaries from MBA as compensation for report writing. All reports are subject to a peer review process before use in the public realm.


What about organic aquaculture?

Wild fisheries cannot be described as organic, since it is not possible to control the method of production for animals moving and consuming freely in the world’s oceans. While some international aquaculture operations have gained organic status, many specialists agree that before cultured seafood can be certified organic, the issue of providing organically produced feed will need to be resolved, among others. This is particularly true for species such as large finfish, requiring significant proportions of animal-based protein.

There is currently poor concordance internationally over the definition of organic, particularly in terms of farming aquatic species. Even the most stringent organic standards do not necessarily equate to a “green” seafood recommendation because different sets of criteria are considered when evaluating the environmental sustainability of a seafood, as opposed to its organic nature.

The issue of organic certification for farmed aquatic species in the United States is currently under discussion by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and updates can be found here.

Other relevant information on the issue of organics and aquaculture can be found here.


What if a species hasn't been ranked by Monterey Bay Aquarium?

If a species has not been ranked by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), there is a chance that it has been ranked by another organization within the Conservation Alliance (see next question) (e.g. Blue Ocean Institute) In this case, FishWise defers to the ranking of other trusted organizations until MBA produces a report. If a species has not been ranked by a partner organization, then it remains an “unknown.” If you require a ranking for such a species, requests can be sent to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We will work with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program to prioritize such species for novel rankings/reports.


What is the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood and the Common Vision?

The Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood is a group of more than a dozen organizations from North America who have partnered to pursue a Common Vision for sustainable seafood. The Common Vision is an explicit articulation and commitment to work with businesses to preserve the health of ocean and freshwater ecosystems and to ensure a long-term seafood supply. There are six main steps to the Common Vision, which can be found here.


How regularly does sustainability information get updated?

FishWise seafood recommendations information and materials are updated approximately every six months following “ranking session” meetings held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, attended by the FishWise Science team.


Why does the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have a different list of sustainable seafood from Monterey Bay Aquarium?

The MSC certifies specific wild capture fisheries (only) via tailor-made, in-depth evaluations that are audited by third party certifiers. The MSC charges for producers to have auditors use their standards, and evaluations tend to pertain to individual stocks or fisheries. In contrast, rankings generated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) assess both wild capture fisheries as well as aquaculture operations, and are performed by a team of science staff at MBA. MBA rankings currently cover a much broader range of fisheries and produce more generalized or geographically broad recommendations that are useful to a wide audience of consumers and seafood industry representatives. MBA receives funding from Foundations, so is not paid by industry for the rankings that they produce. Third party assessment to assure the accuracy of MBA’s reports occurs through scientific peer review.


Where can I buy sustainable seafood?

You can buy sustainable seafood from a number of retail chains across the nation. Member retailers working with FishWise have received recent attention for the high bar that they meet in terms of their sustainable sourcing policies, learn more here. FishWise retailers have consistently out-scored retailers such as Whole Foods.


What do the different colors mean?

Each color corresponds to a different level of environmental sustainability: Green means “Best Choice”: The species is fished responsibly i.e. stocks are healthy, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Yellow means “Some Concerns”: This species is a good option if it is “green” in most ways, but there are still some concerns over the fishing or farming of this species. Red means “Avoid”: The species is fished irresponsibly or is poorly managed. Stocks may be overfished and/or fished or farmed in a way that is harmful to the environment.


What is third-party certification?

Third party certification is a process that is used to assure that products are evaluated in an unbiased manner, by separating the individuals who create standards (standards setting body) from those who would like to meet a set of standards (usually industry), via accredited auditors. Certification may refer to the labelling of companies, practices, operations or products that conform to a set of standards. Certification schemes encompass the processes, systems, procedures and activities related to three primary functions: 1) standard setting, 2) accreditation and 3) certification (i.e., verification of compliance, also known as “conformity assessment”).


Why is certification important?

Third-party certification is currently one of the best available tools for assuring that free markets are delivering to consumers, promised goods. Certification makes it possible to hold corporations to a higher bar than national regulations and also have the potential to standardize products or practices across international borders. One reason this is important is because the World Trade Organization does not currently allow international bans on products based on process or production methods. In order for certification to be credible, there are a number of important criteria that need to be met, learn more here.


What aspects of the seafood industry do third party certifications cover?

Third party certification is under development in the seafood industry, with a view to assuring issues that include: food safety (e.g. food handling, contaminants, disease). traceability and provenance (e.g. use of bar codes or other tracking to document product movement). environmental impacts (e.g. resource use, pollution, changes in biodiversity). social impacts (e.g. compliance with national laws, fair wages, absence of child labor).


What certifications for seafood does FishWise endorse?

FishWise is deeply supportive of current third-party certification methods that have been developed by the World Wildlife Fund for marine food products, through international, multi-stakeholder consultations. The WWF dialogues are unique in their scientific rigor, and the use of quantitative, performance-based standards with defined thresholds (e.g. nitrate in effluent cannot exceed 0.3 mg/L,as opposed to decreasing nitrate concentrations in effluent). For capture fisheries, standards are currently housed by an independent organization called the Marine Stewardship Council. Similar standards for aquaculture are currently in development, and will be housed by a second independent organization, tentatively called the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (until such a body is defined and commences self-governance).


What is ISEAL and what does it have to do with third-party certification?

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ISEAL (The International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance) is “an international non-profit organization that codifies best practice for the design and implementation of social and environmental standards initiatives”. ISEAL has created an international system of reference for setting social and environmental standards. The belief is that the credibility of social and environmental standards can be strengthened by the way that standards are set.

ISEAL members are organizations that fulfill best practices in international standard setting or international accreditation and are committed to the ISEAL Alliance Code of Ethics. Currently, the full members of ISEAL Alliance are:

ISEAL also has associate members – these are organizations that are in the process of meeting requirements for good practice in international standard setting or international accreditation and are committed to the ISEAL Code of Ethics. The associate members of the ISEAL Alliance are Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Centre for Resource Solutions.

The affiliate members of ISEAL are those that subscribe to the ISEAL Code of Ethics and participate in ISEAL mainly to share information and raise awareness. These are Chemonics International, Global Ecolabelling Network, Pacific Institute, OneWorldStandards and Agro Eco.

The ISEAL Code of Good Practice can be viewed here. The Code of Good Practice is formally reviewed every three years and ISEAL encourages comments on the Code through its website. The Code is accompanied by a guidance document and is gaining increasing recognition as an international norm for good social and environmental standard setting by non-members as well. It is being referenced by governmental and international organizations as a credible measure of voluntary standards.



Why was FishWise created?

FishWise was founded by two graduate students from the University of California, Santa Cruz who realized that even with pocket guides available, consumers choices were simplest to make at the point of sale, through clear signage. Plus, such point of sale signage could be used to educate the public about the effects of different fishing gears/farming methods, or the status of marine species from different regions. When progressive local retailer (NewLeaf Markets) agreed to label the store’s seafood according to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s science-based rankings, and to phase out species ranked as unsustainable, FishWise was born!

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