The ‘VISwijzer’ seafood guide started in 2004 with the publication of the book ‘Goede Visgids‘ (good fish guide) by journalist Wouter Klootwijk and Christien Absil.
When consumers make a deliberate choice to buy sustainably caught or farmed fish, they stimulate fishers to be more sustainable. The first VISwijzer was included with the Goede Visgids as a small card. In the following years the method used to assess sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture was developed further in collaboration with international NGOs like Marine Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund.
With support from WWF the VISwijzer the next edition was printed as a wallet card with a volume of 2.7 million copies. An extended version of the VISwijzer was published as a website on www.goedevis.nl. NGOs in other countries followed suite and similar initiatives now exist in countries such as Spain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, Singapore and Hongkong where national offices of WWF also published seafood guides.
The timing of the VISwijzer guide was just right. Large companies were already working on increasing the sustainability of their food products, but they did not know how to adress this issue for their seafood products. In the fisheries sector as well people realised that the level and nature of fishing practices back then could not be sustained in the future. Changes were not only caused by consumers using the seafood guide wallet cards in shops, but also by the rise of sustainability labels such as MSC and ASC and the use of the VISwijzer seafood guide as a guideline for sustainable sourcing by buyers of major retailers.
Until 2013 the VISwijzer was available in printed form, which summarised the information available on the website goedevis.nl. Partly because several fisheries worldwide became more sustainable, the printed version became too complex. This is why since 2015 the website goedevis.nl and the Android and iOS apps are promoted as the main source of sustainable seafood information.
Good Fish Foundation assesses the sustainability seafood available on the Dutch and Belgian market using a standardised method. Assessment results are published in the VISwijzer and are given a colour score of red, yellow or green. There is a separate category for products certified by MSC or ASC. Fish that scores green is Good Fish. The VISwijzer contains more than 200 seafood assessments and can be found online at www.goedevis.nl. It is also available as app for iPhone and Android.
Measuring the impact of the VISwijzer seafood guide is difficult, but since 2004 the Dutch seafood sector has moved into a more sustainable direction. The success of the VISwijzer has been proven on several occasions:
• A study by TNS NIPO shows that 1 in 2 Dutch people know the VISwijzer;
• The PhD thesis ‘Trust and new modes of fisheries governance’ by Birgit de Vos, (Wageningen University) shows the importance of the VISwijzer in increasing sustainability of the fishing industry. De Vos concludes that collaboration between NGOs and industry play an important role in the transition towards sustainable fishing;
• Christien Absil (founder of the VISwijzer) was ranked among the 100 most important persons in Dutch sustainability Trouw;
• Christien Absil en Esther Luiten kregen in 2010 de Edgar Doncker prijs voor hun werk met de VISwijzer;
• The European Commission recognises the importance of strengthening the market for sustainable seafood and is stimulating this;
• Large supermarket chains, retailers and wholesalers are having their product line assessed according to the method behind the VISwijzer.
Since its establishment in 2004 the VISwijzer seafood guide has been successfully developed and maintained by North Sea Foundation. In 2014 the VISwijzer was transferred to the new NGO Good Fish Foundation. Good Fish Foundation is responsible for the management of the VISwijzer, goedevis.nl and VISwijzer apps and is expanding and improving the seafood guide concept together with the World Wildlife Fund and North Sea Foundation.