Consumer information on (farmed) fish mandatory

Since 2014 there has been new legislation requiring fishmongers to provide consumers with comprehensive information about the fish they buy. In the case of pre-packed fish in supermarkets, compliance with the rules is generally good. But at fishmongers and fish stalls, compliance is disappointing. In December 2020, the organisation Good Fish Foundation, commissioned by the Dutch Consumers' Association, conducted a study into compliance with the rules for unpacked fish. It showed that only 1 of the 97 sales outlets complied with the new rules. What exactly are the new rules?

Obligatory consumer information on farmed and wild-caught fish

In Regulation (EU) No 1379/2013, Article 35 lists the mandatory consumer information for farmed and wild-caught fish.

  • the commercial name and the scientific name of the species;
  • the method of production, in particular the following words: '... caught ...'. or " caught in freshwater ..." or " farmed ...";
  • the area where the product was caught or farmed (FAO area, country of production and/or body of freshwater) and the gear category used in the wild catch;
  • whether the product has been defrosted (not applicable in case of a technically necessary step in the production process, for reasons of health protection or before smoking, salting, cooking, pickling, drying or a combination of those operations);
  • The date of minimum durability (mandatory for pre-packaged fish).

This information is therefore compulsory for both prepacked and non-prepacked fish. It must be communicated via a label (prepacked) or via a shelf card, sign or poster for non-prepacked.

Information to be provided by fishermen

As a seller, you must of course have this information. Fishermen must therefore mark their batches of fish for sale with the trade name, the catch area and how the fish was caught. Fishermen are allowed to sell from the boat without information, provided this is directly to the consumer and does not exceed €50 per day. As a seller, you must always have the mandatory information. Otherwise, the NVWA sees it as fraud and can fine you.

Many sellers find it a great burden to adjust their shelf cards or information boards for each batch or catch. This requires a flexible form of communication in which the shelf cards or information boards can be easily and quickly adapted. You can also choose to sell fish from a fixed chain where the origin does not change too much. After all, if fish is purchased from a fixed (sustainable) chain, (daily) adjustments of shelf cards and signs are obviously not necessary.

The fisherman remains responsible for the consumer information of fish bought via an auction. This information must then be communicated by means of a notice of sale and/or trade document for the fish. If this information is missing, fishermen can be fined for this. The NVWA is not clear about the responsibility of the fish auctions. They call it 'service'.

Wild caught fish

Consumers want to be well informed. They are increasingly aware of the risks of overfishing and the 'bio-industry' of farmed fish. In the case of wild-caught fish, they are looking at threats to fish stocks, by-catches, injuries and mortality, as well as the impact of fishing on the soil.

Farmed fish

Farmed fish looks at unsustainable farming such as environmental pollution, energy use and threat to wild species, for example through the use of fish oil and fish meal. 

Fish guide

They use the app 'VISwijzer' for this purpose, for example. The assortment check of Good Fis Foundation has shown that 43% of the products in fish shops and fish stalls scored red on the VISwijzer. The VISwijzer shows a good choice of wild and farmed fish in terms of nature and environment, based on information from the World Wildlife Fund and the Good Fish Foundation. But if fish shops and fish stalls do not put the correct information per fish on the shelf cards and signs or posters, then of course you cannot see from the VISwijzer app whether it is a sustainable choice. Sooner or later, pressure from society will force fishmongers to provide the correct information. It's just a matter of waiting to see when.

Following research, the Good Fish Foundation has concluded that the labelling requirements are not being met by fish shops and fish stalls in the Netherlands. No difference was found between fish shops and fish stalls. The shelf cards were often incomplete. In 94% the scientific name was missing. In 24%, information about the area of origin was given and in only 10% was information about the catch method given. In short, there is still work to be done.

Published in Vismagazine, November 2021

Yvon Bemelman