Seafood Labeling & Standards
When it comes to seafood labeling, there aren’t many regulations and standards. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of creating an organic certification for seafood. Currently, however, no certified organic label for the seafood farming industry (also known as aquaculture) exists. The USDA mandates the labeling of “country of origin” and whether the seafood is “wild-caught” or “farm-raised.”
Wild-Caught vs. Farmed-Raised
Farmed-raised fish and seafood are raised in what are known as aquafarms. Similar to cow farms, the quality of the seafood varies from farm to farm depending on the practices and ethics of the aquafarm.
The following potentially affect the quality of the aquafarm’s product. Considered these when purchasing seafood farm-raised.
- water quality
- fish food quality
Wild-caught are fish that were living as nature intended. They swim freely and eat from their natural environment. While the environmental quality where wild-caught fish lived varies by region, the nutritional profile of wild-caught fish is superior to farm-raised. This makes wild-caught fish the preferred method of harvest (1).
Regardless of whether the fish is farm-raised or wild-caught, sustainability matters most. Sustainable seafood practices preserve the environment, ecosystem and fish supply. Sustainability means ethical practices, like not over-fishing limited or protected species. Furthermore: not fishing out of season, preserving fish habitats like the wetlands and estuaries, and monitoring water quality to prevent pollution.
Buy the highest quality seafood you can afford. Wild-caught is best, but if it’s farm-raised, you want to make sure it’s responsibly farmed, free of antibiotics and hormones, raised in a non-crowded environment, and fed marine protein free of dyes. Some farm-raised fish are fed animal by-products like chicken feces. We know… gross!
Seals of Quality
So, with minimal government regulations, how do you know if your fish was raised responsibly? A reputable third party, sustainable seal of approval, has been created by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC is a non-profit international organization with a mission to protect the future of seafood supplies through sustainable fishing. This seal of approval is by no means the gold standard, but it’s the best we have for now.
When choosing seafood, select wild-caught fish. Second choice: eco-friendly, sustainably-raised farmed fish. Ask questions at the seafood counter or at your local farmer’s market. Find out from where your fish comes. Many health-conscious grocery stores create their own label and ranking systems to inform consumers of methods used to raise or catch their seafood.