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Genetically Engineered Salmon and the Pledge for GE-Free Seafood

Today, Greenpeace U.S.A. released the seventh edition of its Carting Away the Oceans report, which rates U.S. seafood retailers on sustainability. Once again, Whole Foods and FishWise partner Safeway held the top two spots, trading places from the 2012 report. One of the issues highlighted in the report is the likely FDA approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon and the potentially grave risk it poses to wild salmon populations. Also today, the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society released a study conducted by McGill University that found that GE salmon (salmo salar) successfully interbred with brown trout (salmo trutta) to create a hybrid species that outcompeted both transgenic (GE) salmon and non-transgenic (wild) salmon. With many salmon stocks struggling globally, the introduction of a “super predator” GE salmon could have potentially devastating effects on a commercially important keystone species

GE organisms and the labeling of such products became a hot button issue in 2010 when the company AquaBounty applied for FDA approval of GE salmon, a fish designed to grow twice as fast as its native counterparts. As a result, more than 300 organizations and food companies, including FishWise, submitted letters to the FDA voicing serious concerns regarding the environmental and health risks associated with the product, in addition to more than 400,000 opposition comments from the general public. The effort to halt FDA approval of GE salmon continues, with almost 2,000,000 opposition comments submitted to the agency by April 2013, at the close of the most recent public comment period.


In 2012, the issue was magnified in California with the introduction of a ballot initiative requiring labeling of most GE food products. The Prop 37 campaign brought together an unprecedented coalition of organizations, consumer groups, activists, farmers, and retailers. Though outspent 5:1, nearly 50% of the California electorate voted for the proposition (more than 6 million “yes” votes) and polls show that more than 60% now favor labeling in CA. Importantly, this constituency is now mobilized and working in California and across the nation on new and improved ballot initiatives, state bills for labeling, and education campaigns. These groups are both praising companies that supported Prop 37 or that have pledged to not sell GE products, and are conversely critical of, and vocal towards, companies that are doing the opposite. 

In the wake of Prop 37’s narrow defeat, nearly half of all U.S. states have introduced bills requiring labeling or prohibition of genetically engineered foods. Major food and retail companies (including Walmart, Pepsico, and ConAgra) are taking notice and starting to support national GE labeling to ensure that there are uniform labeling laws, rather than those that would vary state by state.

Part of this growing movement is the effort to secure commitments from major grocery retailers to not sell genetically engineered seafood. Fifty-nine retailers, including FishWise partners Target and Hy-Vee, will not sell GE salmon. With the likely FDA approval of GE salmon approaching, allowing for the first-ever GE animal to enter the human food supply, it is expected that a pressure campaign will soon be launched to negatively target retailers that have not taken the GE seafood pledge.

There are many reasons for retailers to support the GE-Free Seafood campaign. These include the environmental and health risks of the products themselves, and the risks to company brands and reputations should they not join the campaign. In a 2010 survey, 65% of consumers say that they would not eat GE fish if allowed onto the market. Because retailers do not currently sell any GE seafood products, there would be few financial implications associated with taking the pledge. Additionally, because there is no labeling requirement, and growing consumer opposition, if companies do not sign the pledge and its customers are unable to distinguish between GE and non-GE seafood, sales of current offerings could be severely impacted. 

To learn more, visit


FDA Seafood List & Acceptable Market Names

Following our recent focus on seafood mislabeling, FishWise has conducted further outreach to the FDA to better understand the FDA Seafood List.

Here are some tips to determining or verifying the Acceptable Market Names for seafood products. We suggest you check this list periodically, as names do change as the FDA makes clarifications or responds to name-change requests.

1. Search the list by seafood name, and find in the search results the exact species of interest

2. Check if that species has a special rule (indicated by a * or † next to the Acceptable Market Name), if so labeling should happen in accordance with the rule and labeled with the Acceptable Market Name listed

• e.g. search halibut to see an example of species with a special rule

3. If a species does not have a special rule it can be marketed as its Acceptable Market Name or Common Name in the Seafood List

• e.g. Lophius americanus can be marketed as its Acceptable Market Name = Monkfish, or its Common Name = Goosefish

• e.g. Dissostichus mawsoni can be marketed as its Acceptable Market Name = Toothfish or its Common Name = Antarctic Toothfish

4. If a Market Name is not listed, or to determine if a particular name can be used, refer to the Principles in Section IV of the Seafood List Guidance

If you have questions about this list you may contact the FDA by email or phone (see last paragraph of bolded instructions) and suggestions for changes may also be submitted via email or letter (see second to last paragraph of bolded instructions).

Please note that this information is correct according to FishWise's best knowledge, but FishWise does not assume responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided here or any actions resulting from it. As always, we suggest conducting proper due diligence and/or contacting the FDA to ensure your labeling protocols are compliant with the most recent laws.

International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act, S. 269

The International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act (IFSEA; S. 269) complements other legislation, such as S.267, to help eliminate illegal fishing.

It was introduced on February 11, 2013 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and has 10 co-sponsors: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Begich (D-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

IFSEA seeks to streamline and strengthen enforcement capabilities to identify and apprehend foreign illegal fishing operators and aims to help Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) achieve sustainable quotas.

This legislation would:

  • Increase collaboration between agencies enforcing IUU fishing;
  • Establish an IUU vessel list and bring action against those vessels; and
  • Establish consistent and streamlined enforcement protocols in U.S. law pertaining to international fisheries.

S. 269 goes hand in hand with S.267, the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act, and the UN FAO Port State Measures Agreement. Follow links on each piece of legislation for more FishWise IUU policy blogs.

To learn more about S.269, see this excellent fact sheet by our colleagues at Pew Charitable Trusts.

UN FAO Port State Measures Agreement

The Leaders

First, let’s begin with a big high-five to Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Norway, Chile, and the EU which have ratified or approved this agreement (FAO, 2012).

Now let’s review why this is an important piece of legislation at the United Nations:

Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) Fishing is a serious problem. Estimates of fishing losses to illegal activity range from $10-23.5 billion, representing 11-26 million tons of seafood (Agnew et al. 2009). Some countries suffer greatly (40% of West Africa’s total catches may be illegal) and, in others, illegal fishing may double the documented harvest numbers (Agnew et al. 2009). Furthermore, developing countries often bear the brunt of IUU fishing through lost revenue, decreased food security, and loss of biodiversity (FAO, 2012).

The Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, seeks to make it harder to land illegal product. Countries that ratify the treaty must: 1) designate ports through which foreign fishing vessels may enter; 2) conduct dockside inspections following set standards; 3) block entry to vessels known or believed to have been involved in IUU or those on an IUU vessel list of a Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO); and 4) share information with the governments of vessels with IUU product, when discovered during inspection.

What about the United States?

The U.S. has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty. President Obama sent the Agreement to the Senate in the U.S. for ratification on November 14, 2011 (US Department of State, 2011) and it has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (PFEA; S. 267) seeks to implement the PSMA to help eliminate illegal fishing, and was reintroduced to the Senate on February 11, 2013 (see our PFEA blog for more details).

Next Steps

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) approved the PSMA to ‘Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing’ on November 22, 2009. This treaty will go into effect once 25 countries have ratified the Agreement. It will likely take a few more years to have enough countries ratify the Agreement to move the PSMA forward to implementation.

While the PSMA is still awaiting ratification by 20 more countries, progress in some countries has been made to support implementation of the Agreement. For example, in April 2012, a global series of capacity-development workshops to support implementation of the Agreement was launched in Thailand, to cater to countries from Southeast Asia (FAO, 2012), a toolkit has been developed that outlines how to conduct a needs assessment (PSMA Toolkit), and work is being done to compare current RFMO traceability requirements against those of the PSMA (e.g. Pew, Closing the Gap, 2011).

FishWise will continue to monitor progress of the PSMA and let our retail and NGO partners, along with the public, know how they can help encourage the process.

Pirate Fishing Elimination Act, S. 267

The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (PFEA; S. 267) seeks to implement the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA) to help eliminate illegal fishing.

It was introduced on February 11, 2013 by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and has 9 co-sponsors: Mark Begich (D-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

How does S.267 help to combat illegal fishing?

  • Passing S. 267 would reinforce U.S. authority to prevent vessels involved in illegal fishing from entering U.S. ports, thereby denying their illegal product from entering the U.S. market.
  • It would also require foreign fishing vessels to submit notice before arrival at American ports (currently, a loophole exists that has created an exemption for some vessels). 


S. 267 goes hand in hand with ratification of the Port State Measures Agreement. To learn more about ratification of PSMA, follow this link to our PSMA blog.

To learn more about S.267, see this excellent fact sheet by our colleagues at Pew Charitable Trusts.