The premium price that comes with the Fair Trade label could help ease costs for scallop fishers. FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Fair Trade certification comes to U.S. seafood

Jed Kim Apr 17, 2017
The premium price that comes with the Fair Trade label could help ease costs for scallop fishers. FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re a frequent buyer of seafood, you may be aware that more attention is being focused on how that seafood was captured. There are several certification programs meant to convey whether the fish you like to eat was taken from overfished areas. Enter another program: Fair Trade.

You may know if from coffee or chocolate. In recent years, it’s expanded into seafood. And soon, the first U.S. seafood products will get that label. Is there something truly different about the Fair Trade label, or is it just another fish in the sea?

If you’re a socially conscious seafood eater, you’ve got options. There’s the Marine Stewardship Council’s “Sustainable Seafood” mark, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a “Seafood Watch” app to help you shop. Ashley Apel, manager of the seafood program at Fair Trade USA, said her organization’s certification is different because it considers workers’ conditions and social benefits.

“Other seafood certifications — at least for wild capture — really only focus on environmental sustainability of the stock,” Apel said.

For U.S. scallop fishers, the premium price that comes with the label could help ease some regulatory costs.

“Fishermen are still dealing with having to provide a lot of data and a lot of tracking on their vessels, and that can be very expensive,” Apel said. “So part of the premium can be used to ensure the health of the stock.”

Can the marketplace sustain yet another label for responsible seafood?

“If we ever got to the point where sustainability labels were competing with each other, that’d probably be a good problem to have,” said Tim Fitzgerald, who focuses on fisheries for the Environmental Defense Fund. He’s also on the advisory committee for Fair Trade’s seafood program. He said one big benefit of the label: people recognize it.

“With Fair Trade getting into seafood, it puts social responsibility and environmental responsibility on the radar of just a huge amount more people,” Fitzgerald said. Still, he said price is the main factor when people choose which fish they’ll buy, and the Fair Trade scallops that’ll roll out later this month will cost a little more. 

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