UN adopts voluntary guidelines for eco-labelling fish

24 March 2005 – Consumers can soon rest assured that the fish they are eating has not been caught in an environmentally-unfriendly way under a new eco-labelling scheme adopted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a bid to ensure the sustainability of the world's marine fisheries.

The voluntary guidelines for eco-labelling fish products, adopted earlier this month by FAO's Committee of Fisheries (COFI), involve a tag certifying that a product was produced in an environment-friendly way, allowing consumers to make informed choices and creating a market mechanism that promotes sustainable production methods.

The distinctive logo or statement certifies that the fish has been harvested in compliance with conservation and sustainability standards such as those that guard against overfishing or adverse impacts on protected, endangered or threatened species as well as on sensitive habitats.

The guidelines outline general principles that should govern eco-labelling schemes, including the need for reliable, independent auditing, transparency of standard-setting and accountability, and the need for standards to be based on good science.

They are aimed at providing guidance to governments and organizations that already maintain, or are considering establishing labelling schemes for fish and fishery products from well-managed marine capture fisheries.

With trade in fishery products at an all-time high and concern over the status of wild marine stocks growing, eco-labelling offers a way to promote responsible fish trade – crucial for many developing countries – while preserving natural resources for future generations.

Acknowledging the hurdles poorer countries face due to lack of financial and technical resources, the guidelines call for financial and technical support to help them implement and benefit from eco-labelling.

The export value of fish and fishery products has soared from $15 billion a year in 1980 to $57.7 billion a year today. For developing countries – whose market share in value terms is just over 50 per cent – this trade offers a vital source of income. In fact, net revenues from fish trade (exports minus imports) by developing countries have reached $17.7 billion – a figure larger than that earned from their exports of tea, rice, cocoa and coffee combined.

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