Assessment Methods

FishWise provides straightforward seafood recommendations based on environmental performance. The rigor of all recommendations is upheld through the use of information from peer-reviewed science, which is translated into clear, understandable sourcing advice, point-of-purchase materials and training programs.

In many of our partnerships, recommendations are translated to a traffic light system based on the renowned methodology developed in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), where green represents the best environmental choice, yellow indicates a good alternative and red products are unsustainable. FishWise also recognizes third-party certification standards, like those of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), as important tools for assessing seafood sustainability and social accountability. In addition, we work with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), to provide health advisories based on government recommendations.

How we assess:

Assessing Capture Fisheries and Aquaculture

Our methods for assessing the sustainability of capture fisheries and aquaculture use robust criteria, such as those designed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as a variety of fisheries and aquaculture certifications. These methods are used by many other organizations in the reputable Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood and use a series of decision rules to evaluate the main impacts of capture fisheries and aquaculture operations.

Capture Fisheries

FishWise considers three main factors when assessing the sustainability of a capture fishery:

  • Species : Abundance, growth rate, age at maturity and longevity of a stock are examples of factors that determine health and inherent vulnerability of a seafood species
  • Ecology : The effect of fishing practices on habitats and ecosytems and the bycatch associated with different gear types affects sustainability
  • Management : Effective governance via regulations, monitoring and enforcement is important for maintaining healthy fish stocks


We consider three main factors to evaluate aquaculture operations and develop a seafood recommendation:

  • Species : Different species vary in their requirements of marine and terrestrial resources during their production, such as the use of wild fish for feed
  • Ecology : All aquaculture operations have associated but varied risks of escapement, disease transfer, pollution and biodiversity impacts
  • Management : Respect for regulations and enforcement, coupled with active monitoring and evaluation should occur on farms and via governments

For a more comprehensive look at the environmental capture fisheries and aquaculture assessment methodology of the MBA, click here.

Assessing Health

Our shared health advisories with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) draw on data from more than 200 government databases and scientific studies on seafood contaminants. Health recommendations use methods that account for body size and meal portion size.

Scientists at EDF designate a type of fish a health concern if eating that fish once per week (roughly the U.S. average consumption level) poses an unacceptable health risk according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Any fish designated a health concern for adults is, by default, also a health concern for children. Health concerns are evaluated most often for mercury and PCBs, which are regularly monitored by U.S. government agencies.

Our advisories are designed to protect children and women of childbearing age, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of contaminants. Therefore, consumption advice generally errs on the side of caution for men and older women.

Recommendations are determined based on two main factors:

  • Average body size of women (144 lbs) and men (172 lbs)
  • Average size of seafood portion (6 oz for women and 8 oz for men)

For more on the health risks associated with seafood, click here.

Third-Party Certification

Third-party certifications evaluate products against standards that can be designed to assure factors ranging from food safety to social responsibility. Third-party certification is an important tool for addressing issues of equity in free markets and assures consumers of the quality of their purchase, also providing the option for using buying power to mobilize social and environmental change.

Although certification standards are valuable assessment tools, the proliferation of standards of varying rigor for fisheries and aquaculture requires that FishWise be careful to evaluate and rank products on a case-by-case basis under the criteria outlined above. FishWise has had the most involvement with the ISEAL compliant, multi-stakeholder based Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for wild fisheries and burgeoning Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) for farmed seafood.

Click here for more information about the MSC standard and MSC-certified seafood.

Click here to learn more about FishWise involvement in developing ASC certifications.