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Ensuring sustainability within the seafood supply chain 2 minutes

  Feb 10, 2015

Private standards and related certification schemes have become increasingly significant elements of the international fish trade during the past two decades. They emerged in areas where there was the perception that broad regulatory frameworks were failing to achieve desired outcomes with regards to sustainability and responsible fisheries management.

Initially, standards were introduced to address failings and bring improvement in wild-capture fisheries that were subject to widespread overfishing and policy failure. They subsequently became a mechanism for major retailers and commercial brands to translate their raw material requirements to other areas of the supply chain. In particular, they required suppliers to verify that their products met certain environmental and social criteria.

Standards also became extended to enable other important boxes to be ticked, including traceability and transparency within the production process. The further step of securing certification to an environmental standard or eco-label also helped mitigate pressure from environmental groups and the media. Crucially, retailers and brands also found that certification helped them tap into the growing consumer demand for ethical products.

Based on these successes, many of the biggest players then began demanding the same assurances of food safety, quality and environmental sustainability from the aquaculture industry. Consequently, the fisheries procurement policies of most large retailers now include a sustainability component, comprising targets for wild-caught fish to be certified to an eco-label, and for farmed fish and seafood to be certified to an aquaculture certification scheme.


As a major seafood supplier, Pittman Seafoods takes a responsible approach to sourcing all its products. We know precisely where all our seafood originated from, and endeavour to utilise fish that hold third-party certification or an eco-label for being sustainably caught or produced.

Of the plethora of eco-labels available, some are more recognisable and widely used than others, and there are important differences between each.

Probably the best known is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) fisheries standard, which assesses whether or not a fishery is well managed and sustainable. Certification is open to all fisheries involved in the wild capture of marine or freshwater organisms, including those that contribute to the fishmeal and fish-oil industry. There are currently more than 15,000 different MSC-certified products sold around the world.

Another important wild-capture fishery certification model is the Iceland Responsible Fisheries (IRF) programme, which enables Icelandic fisheries to cost-effectively meet United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) criteria for credible certification. Once certification is confirmed, the fishery enters a programme of annual surveillance assessments to maintain continuing certification, with re-certification required every five years. The IRF certification mark guarantees to both buyers and consumers of Icelandic seafood products that they have originated from responsibly managed fisheries. Certification is currently in place for the country’s cod, haddock, saithe and golden redfish.

Meanwhile, as its name suggests, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is a certification and labelling programme for responsibly farmed seafood. Its primary role is to manage the global standards for responsible aquaculture, which were developed by the WWF Aquaculture Dialogues. ASC standards are developed according to ISEAL guidelines; they are multi-stakeholder, transparent and incorporate science-based performance metrics. Despite only being founded in 2010, there are now more than 1,000 ASC-certified products on sale in the global marketplace, including salmon, tilapia, shrimp and pangasius.

Because sustainability is an essential part of Pittman’s DNA, we source and supply products that are certified to the MSC, ASC and IRF standards, as well as other important schemes like GlobalGAP. In addition, we are able to offer seafood that is scientifically confirmed as sustainable but does not hold an eco-label. For more information.