ASC plans landmark certification overhaul to boost fish farming’s image

Aquaculture is often criticized for its negative social and environmental impacts. It is estimated that 46% of people have a negative view of farmed fish.

A concerning side effect of fish farming, for example, is eutrophication – where water is enriched with dissolved nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life, leading to the depletion of dissolved oxygen. Another is marine animal waste from aquaculture facilities that enters the ecosystem, affecting other fish and leading to nutrient pollution.

Critics claim that the salmon farming industry, for example, is further linked to a host of environmental issues. These include algal blooms, a phenomenon that reduces oxygen in the water and causes fish to suffocate, and sea lice infestations that can harm salmon on farms and impact deadly devastating to wild salmon and sea trout if they disperse in the open air. net salmon farms.

But proponents argue that responsible fish farming offers a realistic solution to meet the growing global demand for affordable protein containing a high concentration of bioavailable micronutrients in an eco-efficient way.

Farmed salmon, for example, has the lowest carbon footprint and freshwater consumption compared to raising chicken, pork and beef, according to the World Resources Institute. France’s first land-based shrimp farm claims to use 20% less feed and waste much less water compared to conventional shrimp farming.

Certification bodies like the ASC insist that certified salmon farms can minimize impacts on local ecosystems, for example by carrying out impact assessments to protect birds, marine mammals and sensitive habitats, ensuring they are not sighted in high conservation value areas and minimizing fish escapes. at the absolute minimum.

The ASC currently uses separate standards for different groups of species. It now plans to launch an CSA universal agricultural standard. Accredited producers will have to meet criteria in three areas: business management, environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The ASC said: “Farmers and auditors will benefit from greater efficiency, while other stakeholders, including NGOs, will find it easier to assess and compare CSA requirements, making public consultation more efficient.”

ASC is currently holding one of its largest-ever public consultations to get feedback on the plans. This round of consultation includes proposals to require all certified farms to report their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, a proposal to combat sea lice and the introduction of risks for key topics such as health and safety.

“The industry should be presented in a more positive light”

The streamlined program aims to address the negative impacts of aquaculture, ASC director of standards and science Michiel Fransen told the Transforming The future of aquaculture togetherevent. “The industry should be presented in a more positive light,”he said. “As soon as you talk to consumers or NGOs about aquaculture, it’s always about the concerns people have about the industry.” The discussion is “almost never focused on the benefits it could bring to the world’s population by providing jobs and food. ASC addresses these issues in a number of ways.

The ASC seeks, for example, to contribute more actively to investment in mangrove protection areas. “Catering is something that the aquaculture industry has an important role that we can fulfill, but we haven’t always taken that opportunity so far. There is an opportunity to really reverse this narrative that shrimp aquaculture was the main driver of mangrove deforestation around the world in the past. »

Investors “now strongly motivated by an ESG program”

In this context, green finance tends to see nascent benefits from aquaculture, said Tanja Hoel, director of Hatch Innovation Services, an accelerator program for sustainable aquaculture start-ups. “I think there is now momentum for aquaculture, driven by the green finance landscape,”she says. “We certainly see there is an opportunity for aquaculture now given the interest we see in the financial community when it comes to supporting more responsible and sustainable investments. Investors are strongly motivated by an ESG program: it is the window of opportunity for the aquaculture industry.

But improvements in social and environmental impact are “increasingly critical” as the aquaculture sector grows and production scales up, added Dane Klinger, director of aquaculture, Conservation International. , an NGO.

“There have been many improvements in terms of the environmental performance and social performance of the aquaculture sector over the past 20 years, but there is still a lot of progress to be made.”

He called for greater adaptation of best practices in areas such as water quality, diseases and food utilization, adding that there was a need to improve governance systems and properly quote in areas such as carrying capacity analyzes and spatial planning to ensure the environmental sustainability of the aquaculture industry. .

Smallholder farmers are the next frontier for certifiers

But in many cases, these best practices are not being used by the small and medium-sized farmers around the world who make up the majority of aquaculture production, he complained.

Cost is undoubtedly a barrier for small-scale farmers and it is a challenge for certifiers to reach these producers. So much that “the danger is that the smallholder farmer may be out of business before we find ways to adequately include him in certification,”feared David Little, chair of water resources development, University of Stirling.

However, certification is a gateway to new markets for small and medium-sized farmers. The integration of these actors should therefore be a higher priority for the main certifiers. “The livelihoods and nutrition of many peoples are at risk if we do not try to put them on an equal footing,”he warned.

“There is no free lunch when it comes to food production,” Klinger added. “All food production has an environmental cost associated with it. There are many types of aquaculture that all evidence suggests have relatively small environmental footprints. Thus, you can get delicious and nutritious food at a relatively environmentally friendly price. Certification systems like the ASC are important tools for signaling to customers what these types of aquaculture are. But I think the next challenge is to think about how we can bring the success of CSA to smallholder farmers that right now might not be applicable to certification systems as they are now considered.

“This is the next critical frontier: encouraging and verifying an insurance system among small and medium producers for many different types of markets.”

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