Seafood Watch

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Program Overview

Seafood Watch was developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to research and evaluate wild-caught and farmed seafood. The result is comprehensive seafood sustainability recommendations for the major seafood species consumed in the United States. Seafood Watch defines sustainable seafood as from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production into the long-term without jeopardizing the structure or function of affected ecosystems.

Seafood Watch's mission is to empower consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans. The goal is to shift the buying habits of consumers and businesses to support sustainable fisheries and aquaculture operations. Seafood Watch is committed to: providing seafood recommendations and background information to enable consumers and businesses to make more environmentally sound decisions; conduct outreach and marketing to generate awareness that will motivate consumers and business to support sustainable sources of seafood; and, conduct scientifically rigorous analyses and make these analyses accessible to the public or other seafood users groups.

Business Engagement

Seafood Watch has developed a Sustainability Guide for Businesses which outlines steps that businesses can take to improve the sustainability of the seafood they buy or sell and gives them the resources to communicate these efforts to their customers. Those that sign up to receive the guide will also get advance notice of Seafood Watch's monthly seafood recommendations, invitations to educational webinars, information about regional events, and much more. Businesses can take the next step toward seafood sustainability by signing up to receive the guide here.

Rating Criteria

Seafood Watch Standards

Seafood Watch defines sustainable seafood as seafood from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production without jeopardizing the structure and function of affected ecosystems. In keeping with this definition, Seafood Watch refers to the following guiding principles to illustrate the qualities that fisheries and aquaculture operations must possess to be considered sustainable. These objectives inform the performance criteria and scoring methodology used to assess fisheries and aquaculture operations.  

Fisheries Guiding Principles

Sustainable wild capture fisheries:

  1. Follow the principles of ecosystem-based fisheries management;
  2. Ensure all affected stocks are healthy and abundant; 
  3. Fish all affected stocks at sustainable levels; 
  4. Minimize bycatch;
  5. Have no more than a negligible impact on any threatened, endangered or protected species;
  6. Are managed to sustain long-term productivity of all affected species;
  7. Avoid negative impacts on the structure, function or associated biological communities of marine habitats where fishing occurs;
  8. Maintain the trophic role of all marine life;
  9. Do not result in harmful ecological changes such as reduction of dependent predator populations, trophic cascades, or phase shifts;
  10. Ensure that any enhancement activities and fishing activities on enhanced stocks do not negatively affect the diversity, abundance or genetic integrity of wild stocks.

Aquaculture Guiding Principles

Sustainable aquaculture farms and collective industries:

  1. Have robust and up-to-date information on production practices and their impacts (or lack of impacts) publicly available;
  2. Prevent effluent discharges from exceeding, or contributing to exceeding, the carrying capacity of receiving waters at the local or regional level;  
  3. Are located at sites, scales and intensities that maintain the functionality of ecologically valuable habitats;
  4. Limit the type, frequency of use, total use, or discharge of chemicals to levels representing a low risk of impact to non-target organisms;
  5. Source sustainable feed ingredients and converting them efficiently with net edible nutrition gains;
  6. Prevent population-level impacts to wild species or other ecosystem-level impacts from farm escapes;
  7. Prevent population-level impacts to wild species through the amplification and retransmission, or increased virulence of pathogens or parasites;
  8. Use eggs, larvae, or juvenile fish produced from farm-raised broodstocks thereby avoiding the need for wild capture;
  9. Prevent population-level impacts to predators or other species of wildlife attracted to farm sites;
  10. Avoid the potential for the accidental introduction of non-native species or pathogens during the shipment of live animals.

Criteria & Methodology 

Wild Fishries Criteria Aquaculture Criteria

1. Impacts on the Species Under Assessment

1.1 Abundance

1.2 Fishing Mortality

2. Impacts on Other Capture Species

2.1 Abundance

2.2 Fishing Mortality

2.3 Modifying Factor: Discards and Bait Use

3. Management Effectiveness

3.1 Management Strategy and Implementation

3.2 Bycatch Strategy

3.3 Scientific Research and Monitoring

3.4 Enforcement of Management Regulations

3.5 Stakeholder Inclusion 

4. Impacts on the Habitat and Ecosystem

4.1 Physical Impact of Fishing Gear on the Habitat/Substrate

4.2 Modifying Factor: Mitigation of Gear Impacts

4.3 Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management

1. Data

2. Effluent

2.1 Waste discharged per ton of fish

2.2 Management of farm-level and cumulative impacts

3. Habitat

3.1 Habitat conversion and function

3.2 Farm siting regulation and management 

4. Chemical Use

5. Feed

5.1 Wild fish use

5.2 Net protein gain or loss

5.3 Feed footprint

6. Escapes

6.1 Escape Risk Score

7. Disease, Pathogen and Parasite Interaction

8X. Source of Stock - Independence from Wild Fish Stocks

9X. Predator and Wildlife Mortalities

10X. Escape of Secondary Species 

Seafood Recommendations

Final Score for Wild Fisheries = geometric mean of the four scores (Criterion 1-4).

Final Score for Aquaculture = geometric mean of the eight scores (Criterion 1-8).

Symbol Seafood Rating Seafood Rating Summary Seafood Watch Rating
Best Choice Species is abundant, well managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.

Wild Fisheries: Final score > 3.2 and no individual criterion scores of "Red" or "Critical"


Aquaculture: Final score between 6.666 and 10, and no Red criteria, and no Critical scores
Good Alternative Species is still a good option, but there are concerns with how they’re caught or farmed - or with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts. 

Wild Fisheries: Final score > 2.2 and neither Management factor scores (3.1 & 3.2) are Red (<= 2.2) and no more than one criterion score of Red and no Critical scores, and doesn't meet criteria for "Best Choice." 


Aquaculture: Final score between 3.333 and 6.666, and/or one Red criterion, and no Critical scores

  Eco-Certification Recognized Products come from certifications have been benchmarked against the Seafood Watch criteria for farmed and wild seafood as equivalent to at least a Seafood Watch 'Good Alternative' recommendation.

Wild Fisheries: Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) where current Seafood Watch ratings don't exist


Aquaculture: Species dependent: for tra/swai (pangasius/catfish)- Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star; for whiteleg shrimp- Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) 2-star, 3-star, and 4-star; and Naturland 

Avoid

Species may be overfished, there may be unacceptably high levels of bycatch, and/or the fish is caught or farmed in ways that have deleterious impacts on affected ecosystems. 

Wild Fisheries: Final Score <=2.2, or one/both Management factor scores (3.1 & 3.2) are Red (<= 2.2), or two or more criteria score Red, or one or more Critical criteria scores.


Aquaculture: Final score between 0 and 3.333, or more than one Red criterion, or one or more Critical scores

Because effective management is an essential component of sustainable fisheries, Seafood Watch issues an Avoid recommendation for any fishery scoring Red for Management (Criterion 3).

Eco-Certification

The following certifications have been benchmarked against the Seafood Watch criteria for farmed and wild seafood as equivalent to at least a Seafood Watch 'Good Alternative' recommendation.

Farmed / Wild Seafood Species Certification

Farmed

Catfish / Pangasius

Aquaculture Stewardship Council pangasius

Global Aquaculture Alliance BAP 2, 3, 4-star pangasius 

Naturland farmed freshwater fish

Farmed Freshwater Fish & Carp

Global Aquaculture Alliance BAP 2, 3, 4-star tilapia

Naturland farmed carp 

Naturland farmed freshwater fish

Farmed  Geoduck Canada Organic farmed shellfish
Farmed  Mussels

Aquaculture Stewardship Council farmed bivalves

Canada Organic farmed shellfish

Friend of the Sea farmed mussels

Global Aquaculture Alliance BAP farmed mussels

Naturland farmed mussels

Farmed  Oysters & Clams

Aquaculture Stewardship Council farmed bivalves

Canada Organic farmed shellfish 

 Farmed  Salmon Aquaculture Stewardship Council salmon
 Farmed  Scallops

Aquaculture Stewardship Council farmed bivalves

Canada Organic farmed shellfish

Farmed Shrimp

Aquaculture Stewardship Council shrimp

Global Aquaculture Alliance BAP 2, 3, 4-star shrimp 

Naturland farmed shrimp

Wild All Species Marine Stewardship Council