In addition to ecolabels, seafood guides are another tool that can help to inform the choices of consumers and seafood buyers. These guides can range from condensed pocket guides for use in restaurants or grocery stores, to comprehensive online guides discussing several potential environmental impacts. Many environmental organizations have created such guides. A list can be found at the bottom of this website.
The objectives of seafood guides can focus on sustainability, environmental impacts, or health concerns based on mercury contamination. For more information on health issues and seafood see the Seafood Network Information Center at seafood.ucdavis.edu.
Guides can be structured using categories such as "best choice," "good alternative," and "fish to avoid," generally in combination with the use of color-coding to create a green, yellow, and red list. Guides are simple, easy to read suggestions on those fish and shellfish which meet the standards of the particular organization issuing that guide. Consumers are urged to "buy seafood from the green or yellow columns to support those fisheries or fish farms that are healthier for ocean wildlife and the environment" (Monterey Bay Aquarium).
Lists vary in the level of specificity used when describing seafood. Some organizations use general categories when constructing their lists (e.g., tuna- yellowfin), whereas others are much more specific (e.g., tuna- yellowfin imported pole/troll caught). The differences may be specific to harvest location or gear-type.
These differences in specificity, along with variations in the evaluation criteria used by each organization, can produce discrepancies between lists. This can often be confusing to consumers who are unclear which list to follow. In addition, labeling of fish at supermarkets is often too vague to allow consumers to determine the gear-type that caught the fish and exact location of harvest making it confusing for consumers to follow the recommendations of the lists. Waitstaff at restaurants often cannot provide answers to questions regarding harvest or origins of seafood. The seafood industry tries to remedy this by training their staff to answer consumers' questions, however, this is not always effective.
In An Evaluation of Sustainable Seafood Guides: Implications for Environmental Groups
and the Seafood Industry, published in the journal Marine Resource Economics, the URI Sustainable Seafood Initiative Director Dr. Cathy A. Roheim analyzed the recommendations of several recent sustainable seafood guides for their consistency with one another. The results provide not only useful implications for the fisheries and aquaculture industries, but also provide suggestions for those in the seafood industry who are working directly with consumers struggling to make sense of the messages they are receiving. Also included are recommendations for environmental groups on ways which might help reduce the economic burden on the seafood industry while still pursuing the market-based approach to improving the ocean environment. The paper is based upon the detailed analysis contained in A Consensus Seafood Guide, also found on the News page of this website.
Recently, the Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG) on contract to Britain’s SeaFish Industry Authority also evaluated several fish sustainability information programs, including seafood guides, ecolabeling programs, and private industry initiatives. The Final Report contains a wealth of useful information.
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SEAFOOD GUIDES VERSUS ECOLABELING
The question is often raised as to what the major differences are between seafood guides and ecolabeling, and perhaps most importantly, whether the recommendations of one are ‘better’ than those of the other. There are a number of levels upon which to address the answer to that question – the most important of which are the fundamental science, the process by which the decisions regarding the recommendation is made, and then the means by which the communication of that recommendation is made to the consumer/buyer.
In other words:
- What are the standards?
- Is consistent scientific rigor and credibility of the standards and decision process applied to the different guides/programs?
- Are stakeholders allowed to participate in the process?
- Is it a transparent process?
For several years, it was clear that seafood guides differed substantially, and that the answers differed for each for the questions above. That remains true to some extent, but lesser, today. In the extreme, Greenpeace believes Alaskan pollock from the U.S. is a red-list species, while other groups have it on the green list. That example is now an exception rather than the rule.
With the growing number of ecolabeling programs, similar questions may be asked of them. For example, how well can one compare the recommendations of the Marine Stewardship Council and Friends of the Sea, and by extension, their recommendations to those of the various seafood guides? Differing opinions are offered by different groups.
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LIST OF SEAFOOD GUIDES
The INCOFISH Project has created a summary of most of the international seafood guides found online. This site also has created a searchable database by seafood name, country, continent, or guide name for comparison (www.incofish.org/isfg.php).
A list of the major seafood guides includes:
Telephone Texting or Web downloads to Telephone:
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The Resources Database on this website provide a searchable database of literature that includes reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, and other relevant documents. The interested reader is suggested to investigate this database for more detailed reading or to contact the Director of the URI Sustainable Seafood Initiative, Dr. Cathy Roheim for more information.
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