Shoppers being hoodwinked by faulty eco-certifications

Vancouver | Traditional unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (MUSQUEAM), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (SQUAMISH) and səlilwətaɬ (TSLEIL-WAUTUTH) First Nations AND Halifax | Kjipuktuk, unceded Mi’kmaq territory — Open-net pen farmed salmon remains the Achilles heel for Canadian grocers’ sustainable seafood commitments. Nearly all received failing scores for their lack of progress to remove farmed salmon from their stores or take actions to improve their sourcing, according to SeaChoice’s latest Seafood Progress report.

The 2023 Seafood Progress audit found:

  • Farmed salmon scores were low for all but two grocers.
  • Most grocers and the brands they sell continue to rely on farmed salmon certifications that are not fit for purpose. These certifications, including the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and Best Aquaculture Practices, fail to adequately protect wild salmon from disease or sea lice impacts from certified farms.
  • Most grocers avoid labelling products as “farmed.” While all grocers label “wild” on some seafood, nearly all avoid labelling “farmed” seafood, including salmon. Without proper labelling, shoppers are unable to make informed choices. METRO and Costco are the only grocers to label their farmed salmon as such.
  • Two grocers stood out above the rest. Sobeys was the only grocer to improve its score (from 34 per cent to 68 per cent) — largely due to preferentially sourcing and promoting closed-containment farmed salmon. Buy-Low Foods continues to be the only grocer to refrain from selling farmed salmon.
  • All grocers have committed not to sell genetically engineered salmon. This marketplace consensus is welcomed given genetically engineered salmon’s potential risk to wild salmon.

In addition, more than half of grocers still don’t include all the seafood they sell under their sustainability commitments.

“That means a significant amount of seafood — from canned salmon and tuna to frozen seafood — is being ignored,” SeaChoice supply chain analyst Dana Cleaveley said. “For healthy oceans, we need grocers to be addressing all seafood sold in their stores, not just some.”

“Grocers and shoppers are being hoodwinked by open-net pen salmon certifications claiming ‘best practice’ or ‘responsibly farmed.’ These certifications allow practices to continue that are largely industry norms, threatening wild salmon populations,” SeaChoice representative from Ecology Action Centre Christina Callegari said.

Next month, federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray is expected to announce the details for the British Columbia open-net pen transition plan. “Clearly, voluntary governance schemes such as certifications aren’t the answer to reining in this unsustainable industry. We need the government to step up, protect wild salmon and confirm a plan that removes the net pens,” SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans Society Kelly Roebuck said. “Transitioning to land-based aquaculture would expand the supply of closed-containment salmon for grocers, removing their reliance on faulty net pen certifications.”

These findings have prompted SeaChoice to call on the federal government to take steps to do what certifications in the marketplace have failed to do: protect wild salmon.

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SeaChoice is a science-based, solutions-focused influencer, advocate and watchdog leading the next evolution of seafood sustainability in Canada. Launched in 2006, SeaChoice was created to increase consumer awareness around seafood sustainability in Canada with the primary goal of shifting seafood procurement and consumption to more sustainable options. SeaChoice is a member organization of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions and is a collaboration of three internationally recognized organizations: the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society.

Seafood Progress is a platform that SeaChoice has used to report on major Canadian grocers’ performance against their commitments to sustainable and socially responsible seafood since 2018. In 2022, SeaChoice expanded its platform to include some of the most prevalent seafood brands sold in the Canadian market.