When looking for sustainable salmon or ocean-friendly flounder, labeling may be a red herring.
The report, “How Green is Your Eco-Label?” found that many seafood products sold as environmentally-friendly aren't much better than their kin from conventional fish farms.
"Our research shows that most eco-labels for farmed marine fish offer no more than a 10 percent improvement over the status quo," said John Volpe, marine ecologist at the University of Victoria and lead author of the report, in a press release. "With the exception of a few outstanding examples, one-third of the eco-labels evaluated for these fish utilize standards at the same level or below what we consider to be conventional or average practice in the industry."
Researchers sponsored by the Pew Environment Group looked at labels on 11 different species, including grouper, Atlantic cod, barramundi, and European seabass. Twenty different eco-labels were scored according to 10 environmental factors, such as antibiotic and parasiticide use, industrial energy use, and sustainability of feed sources.
The absolute scores were then compared to the environmental impact of conventional aquaculture systems to produce a value-added score.
The U.S. National Organic Standard label came out on top in both absolute and value-added scores. Soil Association labeled fish also came out high in the rankings.
The lowest value-added ranking label was that of retailer Marks and Spencer.
Australian AquaGAP labeled barramundi bottomed out on the absolute scale, but jumped to second in value-added scoring. It seems that raising barramundi is hard on the local ecosystem, but environmentally-friendly rearing can make it significantly better.
"Eco-labels can help fish farmers produce and consumers select environmentally preferable seafood, but only if the labels are based on meaningful standards that are enforced," said Chris Mann, director of Pew's Aquaculture Standards Project in a press release. "Seafood buyers at the retail or wholesale level should demand that evidence of sustainability be demonstrated, not merely asserted."
A fish farm in open water (Peter Shanks, Wikimedia Commons)
Cairidh Salmon Farm jetty The buildings and jetty that service the salmon farm on Loch Ainort. (John Allan, Wikimedia Commons)