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
Specific labelling is required and fish must be labelled with
- the commercial designation of the food (see below)
- the scientific name (which may be provided on a separate
- production method (caught at sea, caught in fresh
water, farmed, or cultivated)
- catch area, which must be one of the following for sea
- 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
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
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.
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
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).
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
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
Smoked fish is exempt from the requirement to give the
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
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/or 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.
More detailed guidance can be found in
Defra's Guidance notes on Fish Labelling legislation.
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
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