In the guide
Note: although the United Kingdom has left the European Union, certain EU laws (known as 'retained' laws) will still apply until such time as they are replaced by new UK legislation; this means that you will still see references to EU legislation in our guidance.
This guidance is for England and Wales
Fish sold from fishmongers is covered by the Fish Labelling Regulations 2013 and the Fish Labelling (Wales) Regulations 2013 and must be labelled with the true name of the fish, the production method, the catch area, and treatments and additives that must be declared. There is a list of recognised legal names, which is maintained and updated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
There are additional labelling requirements for fish that has been irradiated, previously frozen, smoked and/or contains any genetically modified material.
Specific labelling is required and fish must be labelled with the following:
- the commercial designation of the food (see below)
- the scientific name (which may be provided on a separate poster)
- production method (caught at sea, caught in fresh water, farmed or cultivated)
- the category of fishing gear used
- whether or not the fish has been defrosted (see below)
- date of minimum durability
There is an exemption from the first three of these requirements for small amounts (worth less than 20 euros) sold direct by the fisherman to the consumer.
Article 38 of Regulation (EU) No 1379/2013 on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products includes further requirements relating to the area where the fish was caught:
"1. The indication of the catch or production area ... shall consist of the following:
(a) in the case of fishery products caught at sea, the name in writing of the sub-area or division listed in the FAO fishing areas, as well as the name of such zone expressed in terms understandable to the consumer, or a map or pictogram showing that zone, or, by way of derogation from this requirement, for fishery products caught in waters other than the Northeast Atlantic (FAO Fishing Area 27) and the Mediterranean and Black Sea (FAO Fishing Area 37), the indication of the name of the FAO fishing area;
(b) in the case of fishery products caught in freshwater, a reference to the body of water of origin in the Member State or third country of provenance of the product;
(c) In the case of aquaculture products, a reference to 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."
As fish is a specified allergen, the allergen-labelling requirement must also be complied with. See 'Food allergens and intolerance' for more information.Back to top
Names for species of fish (commercial designations)
A name is required by law for the fish. Defra keeps an up-to-date list in its Commercial Designations of Fish document.
The list of recognised legal names for species of fish (or 'commercial designations') is updated as new species are marketed and when new scientific information about species becomes available.
A brand name, trade name, or made-up name must not be substituted for the true name. A commonly misused trade name is 'crab sticks'; to comply with the requirements listed above, this trade name must be accompanied by a true name that indicates that it includes fish, cereal and crab flavouring.Back to top
If a food contains any genetically modified material (for example, breadcrumbs may contain maize or soya) the product must be labelled 'Produced from genetically modified maize / soya'. For more information on GM foods see 'Genetically modified foods'.Back to top
Treatment or process
If the food or any ingredients in the food have been irradiated, it must be declared and marked 'irradiated' or 'Treated with ionising radiation' (some crustaceans and shellfish are irradiated, for example).
Previously frozen fish
If fish that has been frozen is offered for sale in a thawed or partly thawed condition, it must be labelled with the word 'defrosted'.
Fish that has been smoked should be labelled as such. Where appropriate this should indicate whether it was cold smoked (which will require thorough cooking) or hot smoked.
Care should be taken to ensure your labelling clearly distinguishes smoked and smoke flavour products. Only fish that has been actually flavoured by smoking can be labelled 'smoked'. Those treated with smoke solution must be labelled 'smoke flavour'.
Smoked fish is exempt from the requirement to give the commercial designation.Back to top
The name you use should be the same as that used by your supplier. By shortening a fish's name you could be misdescribing it - for example, lemon sole is different from sole (which means a Dover sole), and salmon is a different species from red or pink salmon, etc. Beware of megrim and lemon sole as these can be easily confused.
Many traditional products such as breaded scampi and breaded fish 'steaks' are now made with formed fish or minced fish. In order to prevent customers being misled, they must be labelled as 'formed fish'. Use the same name as that given by the manufacturer on the packaging.Back to top
More guidance on fish and seafood labelling can be found on the GOV.UK website and in the European Commission document A Pocket Guide to the EU's new Fish and Aquaculture Consumer Labels.Back to top
Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.Back to top
Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers
Regulation (EU) No 1379/2013 on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products
Last reviewed / updated: November 2019