WSO’s Friend of the Sea certification matters for the plant-based seafood industry. Here’s why

The World Sustainability Organization, in partnership with GFI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative, announced it will begin certifying plant-based seafood products under their Friend of the Sea certification program.
Ocean full of fish

The World Sustainability Organization (WSO), in partnership with GFI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative, has announced that it will begin certifying plant-based seafood products under a Gold Level version of their Friend of the Sea certification program.

This program is a pivotal opportunity for the nascent plant-based seafood industry to expand its visibility and impact. Certifications like this can help point environmentally conscious consumers to new, sustainable foods that they might not otherwise consider. They also inform purchasing decisions in retail and foodservice. WSO’s Friend of the Sea certification program can thus enhance plant-based seafood companies’ ability to both attract conscious consumers and establish themselves as a sustainable option in both the retail and foodservice industries.

WSO’s partnership with GFI will officially launch with an event during GFI-India’s Smart Protein Summit on Friday, October 9 at 7:00 p.m. IST (9:30 a.m. ET) featuring WSO’s founder and director Paolo Bray. To be part of this session and dozens of other presentations and interactive discussions on the future of food, register here today.

About Friend of the Sea

WSO consists of two categories of certification: Friend of the Sea (for seafood products) and Friend of the Earth (for terrestrial agricultural products). Founded in 2008 “to protect the oceans by means of promoting sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, and shipping,” Friend of the Sea certifies both wild and farmed seafood, with nearly 1,000 companies in 72 countries currently certified (learn more in their latest annual report).

Criteria for wild-caught certification include, among others, the level of exploitation of the relevant fish stock, endangered species caught as bycatch, and fishing vessel fuel efficiency. For farmed seafood, the standards include assessment of compliance with water quality parameters, impacts on critical habitats, social accountability, and several other requirements. In 2016, Friend of the Sea added a certification program for sustainable seaweed production.

How plant-based Friend of the Sea certification works

Plant-based seafood companies can now apply for Friend of the Sea certification if they meet the requirements of terrestrial agricultural products set forth by WSO’s Friend of the Earth standard. The Friend of the Earth scheme, which was developed in accordance with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems, includes criteria such as limited pesticide use and energy efficiency standards, along with social responsibility criteria. Plant-based seafood products will gain certification as Gold Level Friend of the Sea products if the ingredients in their supply chains comply with the Friend of the Earth agricultural standards.

Why should alternative protein companies pursue certifications?

As consumers increasingly demand sustainably caught and farmed fish and shellfish, certifying organizations and ranking programs have emerged to provide consumers with the information they need to make educated seafood purchasing decisions.

Certification organizations, like Friend of the Sea, Marine Stewardship Council, and others, develop set standards against which products are evaluated. These programs are typically voluntary, with companies applying for certification through a third-party, independent audit. In most cases, when a company achieves certification, it is permitted to use the certifying organization’s logo on its products to communicate to consumers that its production process has met the standards. On the other hand, ranking programs typically are managed by nonprofit organizations, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and evaluate all seafood species and production methods against each other on a set list of criteria. Ranking program information is typically displayed on websites, in consumer-facing apps, and sometimes on labels in retail settings.

Retailers, restaurants, and individual consumers increasingly rely on sustainability certifications to make seafood purchasing decisions. Many retailers and restaurants have published goals related to the proportion of seafood that they sell or serve that is certified sustainable. For example, Walmart—the largest grocery retailer in the United States—maintains a sustainable seafood policy that requires more than 90 percent of seafood sold to be certified by Marine Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices or engaged in a Fishery Improvement Project. Providing a certification pathway for plant-based seafood will establish the industry’s role in advancing retailers’ progress towards sustainability goals.

In addition, restaurants are increasingly choosing to purchase and serve certified sustainable seafood. In fact, Friend of the Sea has also founded a sustainable restaurant program, where entire restaurants can achieve Friend of the Sea certification by serving at least 90 percent certified products. Earning the Friend of the Sea logo will therefore get plant-based seafood companies in front of purchasing decision makers in foodservice.

The Friend of the Sea label will allow the plant-based seafood industry to position itself within the broad category of sustainable seafood and therefore appeal to a wide range of consumers. Plant-based seafood can be an incredibly powerful tool in the global effort to protect our oceans, and this move increases the industry’s visibility and credibility as such.

We look forward to seeing more certifying organizations dive into the world of alternative seafood! To learn more about this announcement, please join us on Friday, October 9, at the Smart Protein Summit. To inquire about applying for certification, contact Friend of the Sea.

Discover more about the alternative seafood industry: Check out GFI’s action paper, An Ocean of Opportunity.