The New England Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Programs aim to protect the world’s ocean resources by raising public awareness and working with the seafood industry to advance sustainable practices within wild-capture fisheries and aquaculture operations. As part of these efforts, they evaluate discrete wild fishery and aquaculture sectors to identify ocean-friendly seafood.

Typically, sectors are defined as stocks for wild seafood and species for farmed seafood, but they may be as narrow as a particular country, region within a country or even a subset of an industry that can be readily discerned by the consumer, such as by a certification.

Our ocean-friendly list only includes species or subsets that meet our criteria. The list is not intended to be a comprehensive assessment of all of the seafood available to consumers; we only list species that are, or may become, commonly available. If a species is not listed, it either has not been assessed by our technical experts, does not meet our sustainability criteria or is not yet commonly available.

The ocean-friendly evaluation relies upon the extensive knowledge of the Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Programs staff. It is informed by published literature and other reliable sources as well as a range of stakeholders including representatives of the seafood industry, producers, non-governmental organizations, scientists and certifiers. As new information becomes available, the Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Programs team strives to incorporate this information into existing evaluations and publish any appropriate updates in a timely manner.

Farmed Seafood Evaluation

The Aquarium’s ocean-friendly evaluation for farmed seafood focuses on four key factors: use of marine resources in fish feed, seed (sources of animals/plants used for farming), potential impacts on ecosystems and impacts related to how or where the farms are built. These four factors cover a range of environmental issues and considerations. If a species (or subset of the production of that species) is determined to be ocean-friendly, the farming of that species has a minimal risk of:

  • resulting in a net loss of marine resources
  • detrimentally affecting wild populations by the production or harvest of seed
  • presenting critical, ongoing risks to native wildlife surrounding the farm
  • presenting critical, ongoing risks to ecosystems due to the farm’s construction

While this system may at first glance appear short, it is designed to be extremely effective at filtering out species with high-risk factors. The Aquarium recognizes that some environmental impacts, such as pollution or the misuse of medicines, are often related to how individual farms are run. Rather than making generalizations about these types of farm-specific impacts, we choose to provide guidance for farmers on ways to control these issues. It is our hope that seafood buyers, like restaurants or retailers, will use this information to procure ocean-friendly farmed seafood that is consistent with this guidance. In cases where consistency is demonstrated, such as by certification or another system, we aim to identify these sources for consumers.

Dig a little deeper. Learn what kinds of questions we ask to make our determinations by looking at our Farmed Fisheries Ocean-Friendly List Fisheries Evaluation Sheet (PDF 94 KB).

Wild Seafood Evaluation

The Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Programs’ ocean-friendly evaluation for wild seafood considers five main aspects of a fishery that are critical to defining the long-term viability of that fishery and its ecosystem:

  • stock status
  • fishery management
  • interactions with endangered, threatened, and protected species
  • habitat impacts
  • target/non-target species bycatch

A number of individual factors are evaluated under each of these aspects relative to a particular fishery.

In order for a fishery to be deemed ocean-friendly, it must meet all of the criteria. The New England Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Programs team acknowledges that each fishery is different; other factors specific to a fishery are sometimes considered or excluded during the decision-making process.

Dig a little deeper. Learn what kinds of questions we ask to make our determinations by looking at our Wild Fisheries Ocean-Friendly List Fisheries Evaluation Sheet (PDF 393 KB)

Elizabeth Fitzsimons
Outreach Coordinator, Sustainable Seafood Programs