Ask the Dietitians

Can fish be organic?

I've seen labels for organic fish. Is this a true certification and can fish be organic?

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Unlike organic labeling certified by the USDA, there is no organic certification program in the US for fish. Organic salmon, shrimp, cod and tilapia are available from certification programs in some other countries. Currently, California prohibits the “organic” label on fish altogether. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, these certifications from abroad do not necessarily translate into environmentally sustainable fishing methods. Here’s why:

  • The standards allow for open net pens that can pollute surrounding waters.
  • The use of chemicals to control parasites are permitted by several certifiers.
  • Some certifiers allow the use of nonorganic seafood by-products in fish feed which might contain significant levels of contamination.

So buyer beware: If you see an “organic” label on fish, talk to your fishmonger and ask a ton of questions.

Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, is an international columnist and a speaker on the subjects of nutrition, sports and fitness.