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FishWise
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LABEL REPORT CARD
How meaningful is the label? Is the label verified? Is the meaning of the label consistent? Are the label standards publicly available? Is information about the organization publicly available? Is the organization free from conflict of interest? Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
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1. Meaningful for sustainable fisheries; Somewhat meaningful for low-contaminant levels
 
LABEL CATEGORY:
Low contaminant levels
 
WHERE YOU'LL FIND THIS LABEL:

 FOOD
  • FISH
  •  
     
    WHAT THIS LABEL MEANS:
    The FishWise program, developed by the non-profit organization Sustainable Fishery Advocates, is implemented by the retailer who uses a color-coded labeling system at the point of sale to identify sustainable seafood, and for the more sustainable choices, displays a list at the point of sale of which species fall below health guidelines for mercury and PCBs. It is unique because all the food (in this case, seafood) is labeled, and because it results in the retailer seeking out fish from more sustainable fisheries.

    Sustainability Labeling
    The label colors and their meaning are:
    - Green: sustainable (the fish was caught using a sustainable method and the fish populations are healthy)
    - Yellow: some concerns
    - Red: not sustainable (the fish populations are in trouble and the fishing method is not sustainable)

    The location of the catch, the catch method, and the common name of the fish are also included on the label. Symbols are used to indicate the catch method. For example:

    indicates that a Longline was used (a method used for large open water fish such as swordfish, shark, and tuna, which often ends up catching undersized or non-targeted species).

    indicates a hook and line method is used, the most familiar and lowest impact method available.

    A scientific evaluation to determine whether a given species of fish from a particular location will be labeled green, yellow, or red is conducted using criteria and a ranking system developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a non-profit organization. There is one set of criteria used for aquacultured fish and a different set for wild-caught fish. Each criterion includes a variety of factors to evaluate, and the evaluation follows standard guidelines to synthesize these factors into a resulting rank for that criterion (either red, yellow, or green).

    The sustainability evaluations are conducted by FishWise and Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers. Each report is internally and externally reviewed for scientific content and accuracy. At least two external scientists peer review the information. The Director of Science for the FishWise program, in consultation with Monterey Bay Aquarium scientists, makes the final decision on whether to award the green, yellow, or red label.

    Low Mercury List
    Fish in the Green (sustainable) and Yellow (some concerns) category are also evaluated for mercury and PCB content, using available government and other scientific data. (The fish are not actually tested for these contaminants). Those that can be consumed at least once/week (8-ounce portion) by an adult (assumed to weigh 154 pounds) without exceeding EPA standards for mercury (and PCBs, where data are available), are placed on a “Low Mercury” list, which is displayed at the point of sale. The FishWise advice is stricter than the advice provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For mercury, the FDA action limit is 1 ppm, while 0.22 ppm is the maximum amount permitted under the FishWise label. For PCBs, the FDA limit is 2 ppm, while .011 ppm (or 11 ppb) is the maximum amount permitted under the FishWise label.

    Understanding Mercury
    Mercury contamination is particularly of concern to children and pregnant or nursing women (since the fetus is especially vulnerable), but all people can be affected by mercury. Mercury is toxic to the nervous system, especially when the nervous system is still under development.

    The EPA and the FDA advise women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid fish with high levels of mercury (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish) and to eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish lower in mercury (e.g., shrimp, canned salmon, pollock, catfish). Although light tuna is on FDA’s low-mercury list, the Chicago Tribune recently found that light tuna were not low in mercury, a result later confirmed by the FDA. We recommend that pregnant women avoid canned tuna entirely.

    The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommend that adults consume no more than 1 microgram of mercury for every 22 pounds of bodyweight per day—an amount easily exceeded. Not even 1 serving a week of fish containing the FDA limit on mercury would be safe, according to that advice.
     
    CONSUMERS UNION EVALUATION:
    How meaningful is the label?
    The FishWise claim is meaningful for identifying fish from environmentally sustainable fisheries, and somewhat meaningful for identifying fish with low levels of contaminants (mercury and PCBs). The standards are clearly defined, very transparent, and are verified, although not for the particular fish being purchased.

    Does an organization verify that the label standards are met?
    Yes. Volunteers audit use of the labels to ensure that they are used properly.

    Is the meaning of the label consistent?
    Yes.

    Are the label standards publicly available?
    Yes.

    Is information about the standard organization publicly available?
    Yes.

    Is the organization behind the label free from conflict of interest?
    Yes, and it is a nonprofit organization. However, one member of the board of directors co-owns a store using the FishWise label.

    Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
    Yes. Graduate students in partnership with conservation and environmental organizations and retailers developed the label.
     
    PROGRAM NAME:
    Fish Wise
     
    ORGANIZATION:
    Sustainable Fisheries Advocates
    www.fishwise.org
     
    ORGANIZATION SUMMARY:
    HISTORY
    FishWise is a program of Sustainable Fishery Advocates, a non-profit organization founded in 2002 by two graduate students in the Department of Ocean Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Its mission is to promote sustainable seafood, defined as caught using methods that support the long-term supply of the species, and which do not harm the environment. It was first introduced in Santa Cruz, California in New Leaf Community Markets. Now it is also used in other stores in California. A complete list of stores is available on the website. The criteria for the program were developed in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    FUNDING
    The program is funded primarily by grants, but also by membership fees. As the program expands to more stores, membership fees will become a larger part of the funding.

    STRUCTURE
    The environmental non-profit organization Environmental Defense developed the methodology behind the “low mercury” list. SFA works closely with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which developed the sustainability criteria, and with the Seafood Choices Alliance, a global trade association for the issue of sustainable seafood with members from the seafood and restaurant industries, conservation organizations, and educational institutions.

     
    LABEL STANDARDS:
    Fish Wise Standards
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