Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch

The Monterey Bay Aquarium was founded in 1984 and its design is informed by the area's sardine canning historyMonterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch

by Brendan Thompson, Pacific Grove California

As a voracious omnivore and a native of California’s central coast, I've always been partial to seafood of all kinds. However, as an environmentally conscious designer I've also been attentive to the overfishing and pollution that plagues our oceans.
       Naturally I was excited to hear about RWF's Slow Food Week celebration as it dovetails nicely with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. Rather than a scorched-earth, “Eat no seafood” policy, Seafood Watch advocates continuing to enjoy our favorite foods, but provides resources and incentives to do so more sustainably.


Seafood Watch began in 1997 as an offshoot of a temporary exhibit at the Aquarium called Fishing for Solutions. The Aquarium took a look at its own seafood sourcing practices for its world-renowned cafe and restaurant, and ended up creating a list of recommendations for internal use. Visitor interest and low-level marketing of this list led to the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium looks out over a federally protected National Marine SanctuaryIn 1999 Seafood Watch was officially introduced to the world and the Pocket Guide was made available for widespread use. It is available in six regions with a Spanish language option for each. Based on comprehensive research, peer review and input from qualified chefs and scientists, the Pocket Guide is updated every six months with a list of 'green', 'yellow' and 'red' seafood options based on 4 criteria for fisheries and 8 criteria for aquaculture. Green items are the best choices, wherein seafood has been found to best meet the criteria and sub. Yellow items are good alternatives but consumers should be aware that there are still concerns in their industry or region. Red items should be avoided as much as possible. With over 40 million Pocket Guides in circulation and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's collaboration with an impressive number of zoos, aquariums, restaurants, supermarkets and seafood companies, an item on the 'red' list in one revision of the Pocket Guide could be on the 'yellow' or 'green' list 6 or 12 months later due to market forces and improved industry practices.

For a list of nationwide and international partnerships with Seafood Watch, please click here.

For specifics on the criteria and recommendation decision-making process, please click here.

The Seafood Watch has expanded and matured in the past decade. An annual three-day gourmet celebration called Cooking for Solutions hosts big-name chefs and showcases sustainable seafood innovations. In 2007, over 9 million Pocket Guides were included with the DVD release of the movie 'Happy Feet' and in 2008 a guide to sustainable sushi recommendations was introduced. Seafood Watch has embraced social media with online versions of the Pocket Guide and a Seafood Watch app that includes a feature called Project FishMap, which allows users to post locations where they have found sustainable seafood options. The overwhelming success of the Seafood Watch initiative shows a strong consumer demand for improvements in our seafood purchasing and farming practices and the program continues to break new ground in industry innovations.

To order Pocket Guides of your own or for more information, call the toll-free Seafood Watch Hotline at (877) 229-9990 or email

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch


Robin Wade