Should the U.S. Government Tell Us What Seafood Is Sustainable; A Good or Bad Idea?

The U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering developing a sustainable seafood certification program for U.S. fisheries.

The program would certify seafood caught in the U.S. as “sustainable U.S. seafood” if the fishery meets the standards required by the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act. These standards include preventing overfishing, rebuilding depleted species, basing management decisions on the best available scientific information, conserving habitat, and minimizing bycatch. The certification would also require a traceability system to ensure the sustainable seafood is traceable from the boat where it was caught to the point of sale.

The primary goal of the U.S. seafood certification program is to promote the buying/selling of U.S. seafood over seafood from other countries, and educate people about the sustainability of U.S. seafood. I do think this is something we should work on. But the proposed seafood certification program has several flaws.

The biggest problem is that the agency that manages U.S. fisheries [NOAA] would also be the one to certify them as sustainable. So there would be major questions about the credibility of the certification. And, I have concerns about how thoroughly NOAA would assess fisheries against the standards in the U.S. Fishery Act. Not all U.S. seafood is sustainable.

Then there is the question of whether a U.S. seafood certification program is needed? The internationally recognized Marine Stewardship Council has already certified many U.S. fisheries as sustainable. And there are many other organizations, including Blue Ocean Institute, working on evaluating the sustainability of seafood species.

I think NOAA should leave it to the non-governmental agencies to determine what seafood is sustainable and what is not. NOAA should work with these organizations to raise awareness about sustainable U.S. seafood.

What do you think about the idea of a U.S. sustainable seafood certification program? You have until May 28 to tell NOAA what you think. You can send your comments by email to You can read more about the proposed seafood certification program here.


Elizabeth Brown is a research scientist at Blue Ocean Institute. 

Leave a Reply