Woolworths and Coles have spruiked their commitment to sustainable seafood, but a significant proportion of its product range may not be certified. Woolworths has said that its "aim" is to have all its seafood come from sustainable sources by 2012. This is an ambitious aim indeed, considering only 15 of its 74 tinned and frozen seafood products had been approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – a global standard-setting and certification organisation that endorses sustainable fisheries, brands and retailers when we researched this story in late 2011.

Coles signed a charter with the WWF in March 2011, 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 also makes broad claims of sustainability, but in 2012 only 17 out of a total 46 of its products were MSC certified

Stakeholders weigh in

Australian Marine Conservation Society campaigns officer Tooni Mahto told 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."

But 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: 18 out of 74 = 24.3%
  • Labelling inclusions: Common fish name and country of origin.
  • Labelling exclusions: Scientific fish name, production method, catch method and catchment.


  • Percentage of tinned / frozen seafood products MSC certified: 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.
  • Labelling inclusions: Common fish name.
  • Labelling exclusions: Scientific fish name, production method, catch method, catchment or country of origin.


  • Percentage of tinned / frozen seafood products MSC certified: 17 out of 44 = 39%
  • Labelling inclusions: Common fish name, scientific fish name, production method and catchment or country of origin.
  • Labelling exclusions: Catch method.

*information collected December 2011.