Marine Sustainability Certification: What Goes on Beneath the Surface?

As the global omega-3 industry matures in the conventional supplement space and expands into the functional food, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical channels, and a growing number of the world’s population demand omega-3s for their health benefits, the need for sustainable sources continues to intensify (1). To that end, retail brands and their ingredient manufacturers are aggressively differentiating themselves from their competitors by aligning with well-respected seafood sustainability groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Friend of the Sea (FoS) in an effort to inform customers about their commitments to sustainability (2).

While eco-labeling highlights brands with low environmental impact, it also sets up a competitive standoff between the certifying agencies themselves, which may result in confusion as it requires considerable knowledge about what the certifying benchmarks mean, what constitutes “best practices,” and how certification criteria may differ from one group to the next (3, 4).

However, the message among all of these groups is the same: certified seafood is less likely to be subject to harmful fishing than uncertified seafood (5). Consumers appreciate knowing that their loyalty to one brand over another pays important environmental dividends because regardless of which one is chosen, most certifications accurately identify healthy fish stocks and convey reliable information on population status (6,7).

Endorsement by highly respected groups like the MSC and FoS remains an important way consumers can immediately identify omega-3 sources that are sustainably produced. But what you often don’t see are the extra sustainability steps a company takes that may exceed the benchmarks of either certifying group.

Case Study
An interesting case study that illustrates this is for Aker BioMarine (Aker) and its production of Superba™ Krill oil. With nearly 40% of consumers seeking non-fish forms of omega-3 EPA and DHA (8), the next generation of sources—including algae (9) and krill (10)—also need to be environmentally accountable.

Superba™/Aker’s MSC certification is contingent on three factors: 1) that the krill biomass is and remains healthy; 2) that the fishery management system in place is effective and accountable; and 3) that there is a chain of custody in place that can trace Superba™ from sea to shelf. (11). Aker BioMarine actively collaborates with and shares best practices for krill sustainability with environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF-Norway) and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

WWF-Norway helps Aker go beyond key MSC certification requirements, including mapping its fishing activities against local predator populations, which depend on krill as a food source.

Aker also actively collaborates with CCAMLR in the sustainable management of krill by hosting independent observers on its ships. According to CCAMLR guidelines, krill fishing vessels must allow independent observers aboard during harvesting at least 50% of the time. Aker chooses to allow independent observers aboard 100% of the time. Further, although required to report back on its fishing operations on a weekly basis, Aker reports back to CCAMLR daily (10).

Going a step further, Aker produces Superba™ Krill using a patent-pending technology called Eco-Harvesting™, resulting in almost no by-catch and minimal environmental impact. (11) Eco-Harvesting™ also prevents krill decomposition and degradation and saves energy by eliminating transportation of unprocessed frozen krill, which are 80% water.

The Best Option for Consumers
Although some experts might argue about whether one certifying agency is better than another, most agree on one thing: buying certified seafood is still the best option as this will allow consumers to benefit from the vital and essential of effects of omega-3s for generations to come.

As sustainability concerns build, groups like the MSC and FoS will continue to drive rigorous benchmarks throughout the seafood industry and should be applauded for their excellent work. On-pack sustainable “trust marks” can translate this for the consumer, but this limits showing how a company exceeds these guidelines and drives best practices in sustainable seafood. As with most things, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. Krill harvesting is a good example of this. WF


  1. FAO (2010) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome) Available at: 20e.pdf.
  2. Horne,, R. E. (2009). "Limits to labels: The role of eco-labels in the assessment of product sustainability and routes to sustainable consumption". International Journal of Consumer Studies 33: 175–182.
  3. Review of Guidelines for Eco-labeling of Fish and Products from Capture Fisheries, and Recommended Minimum Substantive Requirements Report for the Expert Consultation on Ecolabelling Guidelines for Fish and Fishery Products, Rome, 3-5 March 2008
  4. Comparison of Seafood Eco-Labels
  5. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2010 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  6. Roheim, Cathy, A (2009). "An Evaluation of Sustainable Seafood Guides: Implications for Environmental Groups and the Seafood Industry". Marine Resource Economics 24: 301–310
  7. SeaChoice. "Make Smart Seafood Decisions for Today and Tomorrow". SeaChoice. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  8. Discovery Research Group (March 12, 2012) Omega-3 Supplement Use Survey.

Christopher SpeedChristopher Speed, MND APD, is the communications director at OmegaWellness, Chris has helped overhaul health and wellness communication platforms of many prominent food, nutrition and supplement companies to successfully supported sales, marketing and public relations outcomes. He has worked to drive brand awareness and category leadership through evidence based nutritional science and influencer outreach.

Chris founded and launched Minami Nutrition USA, a unique omega-3 supplement line into key North American retail accounts. With minimal marketing budget and during a recession, he helped steer the company to positive growth with significant competitive strength, resulting in its acquisition by Atrium Innovations.

Prior to this he was the Global Director for Food and Nutrition Sciences at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, where he saw first hand the importance of gaining third party support and counsel around nutrient ingredients and basing all communication platforms on the best science possible.

He has a Master of Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney, continues his academic work as an Associate Editor of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention and is an adjunct Lecturer at New York University Nutrition School.

Chris is a sought after presenter on the omega-3 industry, the role of supplementation in the prevention and management of disease and illness, biochemistry and metabolism of fatty acids and processing technologies.

As the Communications Director of OmegaWellness, Chris provides a clear and consistent dialogue with key opinion formers in the media, retail and healthcare community. He uses his knowledge of key trends among the changing food, nutrition and supplement landscape to help provide strategic advantage to the rapidly expanding omega-3 market. 


Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 5/15/13