Traceability and Labelling

Credit: Taina Uitto


Simple questions with difficult answers

“Is this fish fresh or frozen?”

Until recently this was a common question seafood lovers would often ask to help ensure the quality of the seafood they were looking to purchase.  These days the questions asked at seafood counters are equally important, but much more difficult to answer.

“Is this fish farmed or wild?” “Where was this caught?” “How was this caught?”

Globalized trade and complex supply chains make identifying the origin and history of many seafood products a challenge.  Seafood often visits multiple ports, travels great distances, and changes hands among various brokers, processors, and retailers.  During all of this travel and processing information about how and where a particular seafood product was sourced is sometimes lost.

A crucial component of a sustainable seafood future will be the implementation of traceability systems that are capable of detailing the journey of seafood along these complicated supply chains and ultimately making this information available to the end customer.  By default, having this information will serve as a mechanism to help ensure food safety and product quality.  With a rise in food-related recalls in recent years, traceability systems are essential to identify the source of the problem and take appropriate corrective measures.

Want to learn more?  SeaChoice created an educational resource for Canadian seafood businesses and consumers.

Seafood Traceability in Canada: Traceability systems, certification, eco-labelling, and standards for achieving sustainable seafood.


Canada’s labelling laws currently do not require seafood providers to properly label their product with the necessary information that will help Canadians make well-informed decisions. This makes it difficult for Canadians to find healthy choices for the oceans and for their family too. On top of not providing enough details on seafood labels, there have also been many instances where seafood is actually mislabelled in Canada with the incorrect country of origin, catch or farming method and at times even the species name.

Why does seafood labelling matter?

The seafood choices that you make not only affect  your health and that of  your family, but also the health of our oceans. Canadians deserve to know more about where their food comes from so that they can use their consumer power to make well-informed decisions. The SeaChoice seafood guides and iPhone apps empower Canadians with the information to choose their seafood responsibly. Unfortunately, without proper labelling, it can be difficult to know what kind of fish you are buying, where it was caught or harvested and how it was caught or farmed. Take the seafood pledge and use your consumer power to improve the seafood labelling at your local retailer or restaurant.

What does a proper seafood label look like?

Proper labelling legislation would require all seafood products to list the following information:

  • Common and scientific name
  • Country of origin (ocean region if possible)
  • Farmed or wild
  • Fishing gear or farming method
  • Health Canada advisories (e.g. high mercury levels)
  • Additives (if applicable)

To help encourage proper labelling with your retailer, you can ask these three easy questions when you shop or dine:

  • What type of seafood is this?
  • Where was it fished or farmed?
  • How was it caught or farmed?

If your seafood provider is unable to answer these important questions, try these helpful tips:

  • Ask to speak to another employee or the supervisor/ manager.
  • Suggest phoning their seafood supplier for more details.
  • Keep trying! Retailers ultimately want to make their customers happy so if they hear the same questions enough, they will look for the answers.
  • Vote with your wallet and shop somewhere where they can answer your questions.
  • Write a letter to voice your concerns and share it with the government or your local seafood provider. Visit SeaChoice member group, the Living Oceans Society to take action today!

Related Work:

Future of Fish traceability toolkit

Does traceable mean sustainable?

Does your seafood label look a little bit fishy?!

Diving deeper into seafood labelling