Food Label Guide: Seafood

Shopping for seafood can feel complicated. Many fish species have been overfished to a problematic extent, but how do we support the good practices that prevent overfishing? What’s the difference between farmed fish and wild fish — and how do you figure out which is better for the environment and the fish? Where is the seafood from and how was it caught?

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Keeping in mind that a lot of seafood has no labels at all, our seafood label guide can help you decipher the labels you do see, and help you find fish you can feel good about. Our guide addresses both farmed and wild fish.

This label guide only addresses terms, labels and certifications, it does not provide guidance on particular species of fish. For a detailed guide of which fish species to avoid and which are okay to eat, you can look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide.

Our Top Picks

Our top pick is not a label, per se, but a rating system for the wild fish available at Whole Foods Market. Their WF Wild Sustainable Seafood system, conveyed by a green/yellow labeling system, is a combination of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards and the green and yellow labels from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

 

Labels Lacking Clear Standards

The terms below lack clear standards, verification processes or independent oversight:

  • “Natural” and “All Natural”
  • “Pole & line caught”
  • “Sustainably caught”
  • “Sustainably harvested”
  • “Responsibly farmed”
  • “Responsibly caught”

A note about organic seafood:

USDA has no set standards for organic seafood. If seafood is labeled organic, this means it is not from the United States. Note that foreign organic standards may not align with USDA Organic, and differ by country of origin.

Other Labels to Look For

These labels are not as comprehensive as our top picks.