Understanding Seafood Ratings and Seafood Certifications

What are the differences between seafood ratings and seafood certifications?

There are many similarities and differences between seafood ratings and seafood certifications. We've created the following table to highlight some of the general differences between the two primary ways the sustainability of seafood is assessed. This is a generic summary, and individual rating programs and certification programs may be exceptions to this summary.

Assessment Element  Certification
Participation of fishery / farm in question Voluntary, self-identified client, usually a private entity Selected by assessment organization based on importance to market(s)*
Cost to producers Yes, paid by client No cost*
Assessment review Typically an accredited, 3rd party aka 'certification body' - selected by client Scientist(s) selected by assessment organization with peer-review process 
Transparency of assessment process Assessment process for wild-capture fisheries are generally made public whereas aquaculture assessments are generally confidential Generally not public until complete 
Stakeholder input Yes, typically required at one or more points in the assessment process Limited to no opportunity to provide input 
Objection process Yes, usually through some form of pre-defined arbitration process at a cost to objector(s)  Not formalized
Publicly available final reports Final certification reports for wild-capture fisheries are generally made public whereas aquaculture certifications are generally confidential Generally made public
Geographic & harvest method scope of assessment Client identifies the fishing / farming geographic area and corresponding harvest method; usually restricted to one or more private companies Identified by assessment organization; geography is generally consistent with a management area, body of water, country, territory, or region and fishing / farming methods are assessed individually or collectively
Wild seafood assessment methodology Typically one methodolgy for all fisheries Typically one methodology for all fisheries
Farmed seafood assessment methodology Some certifications have multiple methodologies by species groups, others have a single methodology Typically one methodology for all aquaculture production
Traceability system Typically chain of custody; certification programs vary in extent of supply chain coverage Not included or required
Products that are eligible for sustainability claims Restricted to the client - typically specific fishing vessels or farms / processors; companies in the supply chain are eligible depending on supply chain requirements of the certification program Generic claims about sustainability about product source generally allowed
Industry marks/labels Usually B2B packaging marks available  Rare, if any 
Consumer marks/labels On-product marks available, requirements and fees vary  Rare, if any 
Available programs &/or partnerships Typically not available outside of use of program marks A lot of variation, usually limited in availability and opportunity depending on type of business and program capacity

 *Some assessment organizations offer a fee-for-service assessment