Food standards

The advice sheets below have the latest information on food standards. If you need more advice call 01753 475111 (Regulatory Services option).

Food labelling for fishmongers


In the guide

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.

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)
  • 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.

EU 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: "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 & 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 'Genetically modified foods'.

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 - for example, 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 is a 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 is a fine.

Further reading

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

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: October 2017

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, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. 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.