New fish labelling rules are to apply EU-wide from 13 December. / by Francisco Blaha

The new rules are part the revamp of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, specifically its Common Market Organisation regulation, which also covers fishing, production and marketing. The regulation 1379/2013 – (OJ L 354 of 28.12.2013), covers both wild caught fish and aquaculture products.

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The 13 December application date is important because it was chosen to ensure consistency with the date that most labelling requirements apply under the food information to consumers regulation (1169/2011). Existing fish labelling rules will apply to 12 December and products labelled or marked before 13 December 2014, which do not comply with the new regulation, may be sold until stocks have been used up.

The new regulation covers all fishery and aquaculture products sold to consumers or mass caterers in the EU. However, the regulation allows Member States to exempt small quantities of products sold directly from fishing vessels to consumers. It requires fishery and aquaculture products either to be labelled - or for retail sale of non pre-packed products, the mandatory information to be provided by means of commercial information such as billboards or posters - to show:

  • {the commercial designation of the species and its scientific name;
  •  the production method, in particular by the following words “… caught …” or “… caught in freshwater …” or “… farmed …”;
  • { the area where the product was caught or farmed, and the category of fishing gear used in capture of fisheries, choosing from seines, trawls, gillnets and similar nets, surrounding nets and lift nets, hooks and lines, dredges or pots and traps;
  • whether the product has been defrosted (apart from ingredients present in the final product, foods for which freezing is a technologically necessary step in the production process and fishery and aquaculture products that have either been previously frozen for health safety purposes or which have been defrosted before the process of smoking, salting, cooking, pickling, drying or a combination of any of those processes); and,
  •  the date of minimum durability, where appropriate.

For a mixed product that consists of the same species but which has been derived from different production methods, the method for each batch shall be stated. Where the mixed product consists of the same species but which has been derived from a variety of catch areas or fish–farming countries, at least the area of the batch which is most representative in terms of quantity shall be stated, together with an indication that the products also come from different catch or fish-farming areas.

Catch area

The regulation also lays down origin labelling rules for the indication of the catch or production area. In the case of fishery products caught at sea, it says that the label should state the name in writing of the sub-area or division listed in the FAO fishing areas, as well as the name of this zone “expressed in terms understandable to the consumer, or a map or pictogram showing that zone.” However, a waiver clause, allows labels to give the bigger FAO fishing area, as long as fish were not caught in the Northeast Atlantic (FAO Fishing Area 27) and Mediterranean and Black Sea (FAO Fishing Area 37).

Labelling on aquaculture products, should state the Member State or third country in which the product reached more than half of its final weight or stayed for more than half of the rearing period or, in the case of shellfish, underwent a final rearing or cultivation stage of at least six months.

Additional voluntary information

In addition to the mandatory information Article 39 allows labelling to give other information on a voluntary basis, provided that it is clear and unambiguous. This can be:

  • date of catch of fishery products or the date of harvest of aquaculture products;
  • the date of landing of fishery products or information on the port at which the products were landed;
  •  more detailed information on the type of fishing gear, for example Danish seines, pelagic pair trawls or driftnets;
  • in the case of fishery products caught at sea, details of the flag State of the vessel that caught those products; environmental information;
  • information of an ethical or social nature;
  • {information on production techniques and practices; and,
  •  information on the nutritional content of the product.

However, the regulation makes clear that voluntary information shall not be displayed to the detriment of the space available for mandatory information on the marking or labelling. It also states that no voluntary information shall be included that cannot be verified.

To prevent fraud between different fish species especially with cheaper species being substituted for more expensive ones, the regulation provides for DNA testing and other techniques to be used. “For the purpose of consumer protection, competent national authorities responsible for monitoring and enforcing the fulfilment of the obligations laid down in this Regulation should make full use of available technology, including DNA-testing, in order to deter operators from falsely labelling catches,” a recital states.


A key aim of the CFP overhaul was to ensure sustainable fisheries, yet the new labelling provisions do not include eco-labelling.

A standard EU eco-labelling scheme for fish could come later as the regulation acknowledges, “The use of an eco-label for fishery and aquaculture products, whether or not they originate from inside or outside the Union, offers the possibility of providing clear information on the ecological sustainability of such products.”

The regulation adds, “It is therefore necessary for the Commission to examine the possibility of developing and establishing minimum criteria for the development of a Union-wide eco-label for fishery and aquaculture products.”

Article 36 also states, “After consulting Member States and stakeholders, the Commission shall, by 1 January 2015, submit to the European Parliament and to the Council a feasibility report on options for an eco-label scheme for fishery and aquaculture products, in particular on establishing such a scheme on a Union-wide basis and on setting minimum requirements for the use by Member States of a Union eco-label.”