Page last updated 05 July 2013


Food labelling for fishmongers

The essentials of food labelling for a fishmonger, 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 (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)

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.

As fish is a specified allergen, the allergen-labelling requirement must also be complied with. See 'Food allergens & intolerance' for more information.

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.

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.


Failure to comply may result in an improvement notice being issued, requiring compliance to be achieved. If the improvement notice is not complied with it is an offence under the Food Safety Act 1990. The maximum penalty on conviction is an unlimited fine and two years' imprisonment.

If allergen information does not comply with the requirements it is an offence under the Food Information Regulations 2014. The maximum penalty on conviction is an unlimited fine.

Further reading

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

Key legislation

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text. Amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Please contact us for further information.

Last reviewed/updated: April 2015

© 2016 itsa Ltd.

Bookmark with: