Page last updated 05 July 2013


Food labelling for fishmongers

The essentials of food labelling for fishmongers, including legal names of species and use of the term smoked

This guidance is for England

Fish sold from fishmongers is covered by the Fish Labelling 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.

In the guide

Required labelling

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 (that is, caught at sea, caught in fresh water, farmed, or cultivated)
  • catch area, which must be one of the following for sea fish:
    - North West Atlantic
    - North East Atlantic
    - Baltic Sea
    - Central Western Atlantic
    - Central Eastern Atlantic
    - South West Atlantic
    - South East Atlantic
    - Mediterranean Sea
    - Black Sea
    - Indian Ocean
    - Pacific Ocean
    (and the actual country for farmed or cultivated fish, or fish caught in fresh water)
  • whether or not the fish has been previously frozen (see below)
  • the type of certain additives that are present in the fish (see list below)

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.

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.

Declaration of additives

The following types of additives must be declared:

  • antioxidants
  • sweeteners
  • colours
  • flavour enhancers
  • flavourings
  • preservatives

For this purpose, it is sufficient to state the type of additive. You need not specify its full name or 'E' number.

The responsibility for additive labelling rests with the retailer, which must get this information from their supplier. For example, smoked fish often contains colourings, and breadcrumbs on fish cakes and fish fingers will probably contain several types of additives.

Additional requirements are in place for the following colourings:

  • E102 Tartrazine
  • E104 Quinoline Yellow
  • E110 Sunset Yellow
  • E122 Carmoisine
  • E124 Ponceau 4R
  • E129 Allura Red

These six colours have been subject to a request for voluntary withdrawal in the UK by the Food Standards Agency. Under EU law products containing these colours must be labelled with the following information: '[name or E number of the colour(s)]: may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'. 

Genetic modification

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 'Labelling of GM foods' and 'Genetically modified foods - Q&A'.

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).


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 include an indication if 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.

Other problems

The name you use should be the same as that used by your supplier. You can misdescribe fish by shortening its name. Lemon sole is different from sole (which means a dover sole), 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 reformed fish or minced fish. In order to prevent customers being misled, they must be labelled as such. Use the same name as that given by the manufacturer on the packaging.

Further reading

More detailed guidance can be found in Defra's Guidance notes on Fish Labelling legislation.

Other requirements

Other legal requirements may affect your labelling (for example, weight marking, price indications, unit price, etc). These are covered elsewhere - see particularly: 'Weights & measures for fishmongers', 'Price marking of goods for retail sale' and 'Packaged goods - average quantity'.

Key legislation

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.

Last reviewed/updated: August 2014

© 2014 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.

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