Friend of the Sea

Page - June 22, 2009
Greenpeace is of the opinion that no fully credible certification system for sustainable seafood currently exists. Although Greenpeace acknowledges that Friends of the Sea applies clear bottom lines to its assessments, has adopted strong environmental standards and a broad scope, Greenpeace does not currently endorse Friends of the Sea. Key reasons for this can be found in the 'Weaknesses' box below.

About FOTS

FOTS logo

FOTS is a small organisation with an office in Italy. FOTS has a skeleton staff led by its founder and director. FOTS has an Advisory Board composed of five environmental and seafood experts from Europe, the USA and Canada. FOTS standards are developed and reviewed by the Technical Board (26 members) with representatives from industry, environmental groups and scientific community.

FOTS runs two certification programmes, one for aquaculture products and one for fisheries products. Traceability and chain of custody aspects are included within these programmes.

Main strengths and weaknesses of the FOTS seafood certification programme


- It has a broad scope

It includes both fisheries and aquaculture and includes socio-economic as well as ecological considerations.

- It has a relatively simple assessment process

This makes it quicker and cheaper and thus more accessible to small-scale and artisanal fisheries and producers than other certification schemes.

- The standards include clear bottom lines about what cannot be certified

This leaves less room for misinterpretation. For example, no fisheries can be certified that have discards of over 8% of catch, and certain aquaculture species will not be considered for certification because their production requires restocking with juveniles taken from depleted wild stocks. e.g. European eel and bluefin tuna.

- The programme has recently incorporated stronger standards for fisheries and aquaculture  but they only apply to new certifications

The fisheries and aquaculture standards were updated with stronger criteria in December 2008 and May 2009, respectively, but these apply only to operations assessed after this dates.


- The environmental standards are not strong enough

Environmental standards fail to adequately address a broad range of critical issues for both fisheries and aquaculture and weak language is used in some cases. A key failure of the standards for aquaculture is that there are no requirements to use sustainably sourced fish feed. Fisheries standards have now been significantly improved and are relatively strong, however they only apply to fisheries that were assessed after January 2009.

- There is a lack of professionalism and transparency

This has been a big issue for those attempting to understand how FOTS works, although there has been significant improvement in this area over the past year. Institutional and technical documents are now available on the website, but they are, on the whole, fairly simple and contain many errors.

Certification assessment documents have recently been made available on the website, however many assessments are not yet available. Finally, there is no 3rd party or “accreditation body” checking that the certification bodies are performing assessments and audits adequately.

- There is poor stakeholder involvement.

Stakeholders are not well represented in either the development of the standard, or the in the development or running of the programme, and there is no process for stakeholder input into the certification assessments. There is little transparency as to which stakeholders are involved, or how FOTS ensures that the views of all stakeholders are balanced and considered.

- The objections process is unclear and not accessible to all

Although there is an objections procedure, the process is not clear and the results are not documented publicly, and it is too costly for some stakeholders.

- The socio-economic standards are not strong enough

Socio-economic standards have now been significantly improved and are relatively strong, however they only apply to fishery and aquaculture operations that were assessed after January 2009. Although the old standards included some socio-economic considerations, they were limited to the requirements that wages paid must meet the legal standards and there must be no forced labour or child labour.

- The quality and consistency of assessments are poor

Standards can only be as strong as their application, and this is a key area where FOTS certification falls down. The majority of assessment reports are essentially a Yes/No checklist assessment with minimal information provided to back up the claims, and they appear to be carried out by only one person in a very short time-frame. Few of the reports are referenced, and those that are contain references that are not relevant to the fishery. This may be partly due to the lack of guidance documents provided to explain how to use the fisheries and aquaculture criteria checklists, or how to interpret and apply the various criteria. There appears to be no review process or quality control, which has allowed broad, and in some cases inaccurate, interpretation of both the criteria and evidence.


Greenpeace uses a certification assessment tool to evaluate and compare some of the most commonly used certification programs. In this context we have carefully assessed the FOTS and other certification schemes and made a thorough judgment about these. For a more detailed overview of the issues raised here, please download the Briefing Greenpeace Assessment of the Friend of The Sea Fisheries Certification Programme.

To obtain a copy of the certification assessment tool please e-mail our supporter services ()