Sustainable seafood labelling

We take a look at the implications of weak labelling requirements for sustainable seafood.
Learn more

01.Caught out


The lack of meaningful standards and labelling laws around sustainable seafood is allowing supermarkets to make sweeping claims about their seafood’s credentials.

This year, both Woolworths and Coles have spruiked their commitment to sustainable seafood, even though in fact the majority of their product range may not be certified.

On its website Woolworths states its “aim” is to have all its seafood come from sustainable sources. However, to date only 15 of its 74 tinned and frozen seafood products have been approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – a global standard-setting and certification organisation that endorses sustainable fisheries, brands and retailers.

Coles signed a charter with the WWF in March, committing the supermarket chain to developing a sustainable seafood improvement plan. 

The plan includes working with the MSC – Coles stocks 11 MSC-certified products – and the Europe-based Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). 

What exactly the ASC is contributing is unclear at this stage, as it is not yet fully operational and has set aquaculture standards for just nine species.

What do the big supermarkets stock?

Woolworths and Coles both stock a small range of pole- and line-caught tuna and have made the move from Yellowfin tuna to the more sustainable Skipjack species, though both source skipjack from fisheries that use the purse-seine netting method, which also catches juvenile fish and threatened species.

Aldi too makes broad claims of sustainability, but only 17 out of a total 46 of its products are MSC certified.

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaigns officer Tooni Mahto tells CHOICE the biggest problem with the labelling system in Australia is it uses only the common name of the fish.

“If the actual species is not identified and a customer is concerned about choosing seafood that does not adversely affect the health of the oceans, they can’t be confident they are purchasing something they actually want to.”

Woolworths, Coles and Aldi have their own labelling policies for in-house brands, but Mahto argues all three retailers fall short of the ideal.

“The gold standard of seafood labelling would be to clearly identify the species of seafood for sale, how it was caught or farmed and which company was responsible for getting the product onto the supermarket shelf.”

Woolworths spokesperson Siobhan Quinn says this information is not necessary for consumers. 

“We’ve found that information such as production and catch methods, fisheries, jurisdiction and scientific species names is good for supply chain managers and decision-makers, but not as helpful to the average customer wanting to make a sustainable choice."

Tracing your tin


 Percentage of tinned / frozen seafood products MSC certified

 Labelling inclusions
 Labelling exclusions

 18 out of 74 = 24.3%

Common fish name and country of origin.

Scientific fish name, production method, catch method and catchment.

 11 MSC products: six varieties of pink salmon and five varieties of red salmon. Coles refused to provide the total number of private label seafood products.

Common fish name.
Scientific fish name, production method, catch method, catchment or country of origin.

 17 out of 44 = 39%

Common fish name, scientific fish name, production method and catchment or country of origin.
Catch method.



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments