Monday, March 17, 2014

SENA14: Updates From The Aquaculture Stewardship Council

Is aquaculture sustainable? If you purchase farmed seafood, and see the tag pictured above on it, then you might feel better about your purchase. The tag belongs to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), an independent, not-for-profit organization that certifies "responsible" seafood farms, processors and distributors worldwide. Rather than use the term "sustainable," they have chosen, for a couple reasons, to use "responsible." They believe consumers can better understand that term, which seems to make sense, and they also think "sustainable" doesn't really fit certain aspects of their standards.

Founded in 2010 by the WWF and Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), and based in the Netherlands, the ASC wants to be a leader in the certification of responsible aquaculture. At the Seafood Expo North America, the ASC held a meeting to update interested parties about their progress and achievements during the past eighteen months. It was an interesting session and it seemed to indicate positive steps were being taken into making aquaculture a better practice. With a growing need for more aquaculture, we need more responsible aquaculture, to benefit our environment as well as our society in general.

The session was moderated by Merrielle Macleaod, of the WWF US, and the four panelists included: Chris Ninnes of the ASC; Esther Luiten of the ASC; Alfonso Marquez de la Plata, the CEO of AquaChille & Co-chair of the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI); and Melanie Agopian of Loblaws

Chris Ninnes began the discussion, providing a brief overview of the last 12-18 months of the ASC. He started with some remarks on the global need for aquaculture and then went into a description of the ASC. He noted that the ASC is "a tool, not a panacea," providing a eco-label that guarantees specific best practices. In April 2012, they released their ASC logo and certified their first fish in August 2012. It was also noted that ASC standards include social issues, from worker safety to wages, which is an excellent addition to their best practices.

Most recently, in January 2014, they certified their first salmon and Loblaws is the first company in North America to carry their ASC certified salmon. The ASC salmon standard is strict in many respects, requiring pubic disclosure of many elements of the salmon fishery. The standards are intended to minimize escapes, reduce fish meal use, prevent waste, and transgenic fish cannot be used. However, genetically modified food is permitted within fish feed, though its use must be fully disclosed. With concerns about GMOs, I'm sure some would like to see no GMOs used in salmon fish feed, but at least full disclosure is guaranteed. Chris also mentioned that the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), stating it was a landmark partnership that brought together 15 members, representing 70% of the global salmon industry. All members of GSI have agree to obtain ASC certification by 2020.

The ASC also works together with Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and 85% of ASC certification holders are also MSC certified. Chris then ended his talk, mentioning that the priorities of the ASC are more than just setting standards and certification. They also include outreach and marketing, as well as communication, such as to the media and consumers. That would include consumer education, which has been a common theme during the Expo, that need to educate people and remove their ignorance of the benefits of seafood, as well as the benefits of aquaculture.

Esther Luiten of the ASC then stepped forward to provide some ASC facts and figures. She began noting the benefits of certification. It helps fill in an information vacuum, provides independent verification, integrity, traceability, and security of the supply. Next, she noted that more than 90% of the U.S. consumption of seafood is limited to ten species, wild and farmed, including shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, tilapia, pollock, pangasius, crab, cod, catfish, and clams. Shrimp sits in first place, constituting 26% of consumption.

The ASC covers most of those ten species, and now has 955 certified products, and about half those products come from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. Those products are currently sold in 36 countries, with more to come in the future, and 24% of those products are salmon. The ASC has certified 75 farms, in ten countries, with more farms under assessment. There are five certified farms in Norway, producing about 18,000 tons of fish, and there are four trout under assessment.

Ending her speech, she explained what made ASC unique. She stated that through their logo, consumers can understand what they are getting. Transparency is the key to accountability, and the audit process was created to be transparent. That is made clear with the example of the use of GMO feed, which must be fully disclosed so that consumers can make choices based on that information.

Alfonso Marquez de la Plata followed next, telling more of a story of sorts, a tale of an incredible journey. He related that a producer, who believes he is making a fine product and doing what is right, still faces challenges. He faces criticism from different groups, and that can be paralyzing. However, NGOs can help build confidence, providing an independent party to convince naysayers of the positive aspects of the producer.

He also spoke briefly about the GSI, noting how important it was for the CEOs of all the GSI members to choose to work together, to help each other and create a better salmon industry. He noted transparency was very important, and that though they have learned many lessons, there still is a grand task ahead of them. It is a journey they face, to become more sustainable and responsible.

Melanie Agopian, the Senior Director of Sustainability for Loblaw, was the last to speak, and was brief, noting Loblaw was the first food retailer in North America to offer ASC certified products. As Loblaw is a huge company in Canada, that means ASC certified seafood will spread wide. Melanie also mentioned that in 2009, Loblaw made the commitment to source 100% sustainable seafood by 2013, though they have only reached about 85% of that goal.

A new report by the World Bank, Fish To 2030: Prospects For Fisheries & Aquaculture, predicts that by 2030, aquaculture will provide 62% of our seafood. The report also states: "By producing more seafood that is affordable and rich in nutrition, aquaculture can help improve food security and livelihoods for the world’s poorest." There is no denying that aquaculture is essential to our future, and we need organizations like the ASC to ensure more responsible aquaculture, which include dealing with important social issues.

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