by Terra Lynn
When I buy fish at the grocery store, I pay close attention to how the fish was caught. I’m looking for the freshest, wild-caught fish sourced from the cleanest waters. But I’m also looking for fish that is caught in an ethical, sustainable way. So I rely on Seafood Watch to help me choose the fish and seafood that’s the best choice for the health of our oceanic ecosystems.
Buying omega-3 fish oil supplements should be no different. One way you can be sure you’re buying the most sustainable fish oil possible is to look for products with the Friend of the Sea (FOS) certification logo. Last November, FOS added new certification requirements to specifically address dolphin safety. It’s now the only global certification organization to evaluate products and fisheries for both sustainability and adherence to dolphin-safe standards—an important consideration for those of us who shop for products that support our values.
What is FOS?
FOS is a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is to conserve the global marine habitat. They’re concerned with protecting the environment as a whole, and preserving the livelihoods and economies that depend on healthy oceans. FOS was founded by Dr. Paulo Bray, the European director of the Earth Island Institute Dolphin-Safe Project, an organization credited with saving millions of dolphins from tuna nets after the “Dolphin Safe” tuna program was established in 1990.
Since its founding in 2006, FOS has grown to become a leading international certification project for sustainable seafood and products sourced from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. More than 500 companies, including Nordic Naturals, from 60 countries rely on FOS to assess the sustainability of their products.
FOS is the only certification program in the world that certifies both wild-caught and farmed seafood.
FOS works around the world with fisheries, companies, scientists, conservation groups, and the public to promote the best environmental choices and guarantee traceability back to a well-managed and sustainable source. It’s the only certification program in the world that certifies both wild-caught and farmed seafood, making it easy to identify all sustainable seafood products with the same FOS seal of approval.
Requirements for Certification
The FOS certification requirements follow the FAO Guidelines for the Eco-Labeling of Fish and Fishery Products. In particular, this means that products can only be certified sustainable if they (or their ingredients) are sourced from fish stocks that are not overfished, and that are maintained at levels that ensure “availability for present and future generations.”
Products and their sourcing are evaluated onsite by independent international certification bodies, and must meet FOS’s strict criteria for sustainability:
- The target stock must not be overfished
- Discard of bycatch must not exceed 8%
- Zero bycatch of endangered species
- No impact on seabed
- A high level of social accountability, including health and safety standards for employees, and a ban on child labor or forced labor
- Yearly carbon footprint reduction
FOS and Fish Oil
Certification of fish oil, in particular, is crucially important to protecting the health of our oceans. As the demand for omega-3 fish oil has grown in recent decades, so has increased fishing of species like sardines and anchovies, which are rich sources of the omega-3s EPA and DHA we need for optimal health. The good news is that the majority of the fisheries certified by FOS focus on these smaller species, using selective gear with no harm to the seabed, helping to protect these species and their ecosystems. According to FOS’s most recent annual report, 22% of all FOS-certified companies are in the fish oil industry.
Oceans cover over 70% of the earth’s surface, absorbing about 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans on earth. They serve as the main food source for over 2.5 billion people, and over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Choosing sustainable fish oil supplements and other products sourced sustainably from the sea is essential to help protect this precious resource for future generations. Fortunately, looking for the FOS certification logo is a relatively easy and simple way for customers like us to help make a difference.
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