Food Label Guide: Seafood

Shopping for seafood can feel complicated. Many fish species have been overfished to a problematic extent, but how do we support the good practices that prevent overfishing? What’s the difference between farmed fish and wild fish — and how do you figure out which is better for the environment and the fish? Where is the seafood from and how was it caught?

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Keeping in mind that a lot of seafood has no labels at all, our seafood label guide can help you decipher the labels you do see, and help you find fish you can feel good about. Our guide addresses both farmed and wild fish. This label guide only addresses terms, labels and certifications, it does not provide guidance on particular species of fish.

Our Top Picks

Although it isn’t a seafood label that appears on food itself, our top pick is the grading system put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The Seafood Watch program examines a number of different factors – overfishing, bycatch, impact on food webs, habitat disturbance and more – to put fish into one of three categories: “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative” and “Avoid.”  Because the environmental impact of a fish depends on where and how it was caught or raised, Seafood Watch advisories don’t apply to entire species. Instead, they focus on instead on fish from specific regions and catch methods. Check out the Seafood Watch website or app for the clearest and updated recommendations. 

You can also trust your local fishmonger or fisherman at the market to tell you what’s freshest and most abundant in your area.


Seafood Labels Lacking Clear Standards

The terms below lack clear standards, verification processes or independent oversight:

  • “Natural” and “All Natural”
  • “Pole & line caught”
  • “Sustainably caught”
  • “Sustainably harvested”
  • “Responsibly farmed”
  • “Responsibly caught”

A note about organic seafood:

USDA has no set standards for organic seafood. If seafood is labeled organic, this means it is not from the United States. Note that foreign organic standards may not align with USDA Organic, and differ by country of origin.

Other Seafood Labels to Look For

These labels are not as comprehensive as our top picks.

Top photo by Fernbach Antal/Adobe Stock.