Adam Daddino is an Aquaculture Program Manager at accredited certification assessment provider SCS Global Services.
Declining fishing and pressures on marine ecosystems around the world have increasingly driven demand for alternative and more sustainable sources of seafood. In response, aquaculture has taken off.
In recent decades, aquaculture practices have improved markedly. Today’s most successful aquaculture operations are uniquely designed to combat overfishing, protect wild fish populations and the surrounding natural environment, and produce nutritious food. Likewise, organizations throughout the seafood supply chain go to great lengths to ensure that seafood can be traced back to certified sources and is properly handled to deliver products. healthy and nutritious for consumers.
Reputable standards developed through recognized multi-stakeholder processes and supported by third-party certification are essential to help food manufacturers, retailers and consumers identify these sustainable sources. Producers and supply chain companies that meet strict certification standards such as Aquaculture Management Board (ASC) help aquaculturists sell their products in developed markets to sophisticated buyers. However, the lack of awareness and misconceptions about aquaculture among the general public, often exacerbated by well-meaning but under-informed influencers, still hamper wider adoption.
This has to change, because, put it simply, the world needs more aquaculture, as well as alternatives to plant proteins. Already, 17 percent of the protein people eat comes from the sea, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the latest research suggests that global demand is expected to increase by 80% by 2050, with China, India and the United States being the main consuming countries. While the world’s population is expected to approach 10 billion people by that year, the oceans naturally cannot keep up with the world’s insatiable appetite for seafood. Both to avoid global shortages and to help. to protect the planet’s fragile ecosystems, aquaculture must succeed and prosper. And that requires overcoming the misconceptions that prevent seafood enthusiasts from choosing certified farmed fish and seafood.
Here are five of the most common myths that undermine the value of certified aquaculture products in the market.
Myth # 1: Aquaculture certifications only serve to validate the toxic and eco-responsible practices of corporate fish farms.
The truth is, not all fish farms are environmentally friendly. Even the best-intentioned aquaculture operations were not successful from the start. Fish populations were too dense to allow natural behavior, producers used too many chemicals (or the wrong types), and farms generated too much pollution. But just like many other industries, aquaculture has evolved dramatically over the years and farms are run much more sustainably than 20 years ago. Ongoing scientific study, coupled with growing consumer awareness of sustainability issues, has led producers to implement new best practices that result in a more desirable product, protect the environment and still support a profitable business.
Standards such as ASC and the Global Seafood Alliance (GSA) Best Practices for Aquaculture (BAP) Standard exist to ensure these best practices are followed for the benefit of all: producers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. . The certifications distinguish compliant producers from those who do not meet the same exacting standards, putting pressure on all fish farms to improve or risk losing to their competitors.
Myth # 2: Aquaculture certifications are just another form of ‘green bleaching’, with industry insiders praising unfounded or trivial achievements in sustainability.
Both ASC and GSA are completely independent non-profit organizations. Obtaining these certifications requires that fish farmers do much more than lip service to their environmental commitments. In fact, the CSA-supported standards have been developed over a decade through extensive scientific research and collaboration involving not only members of industry, but also local communities, environmental NGOs, government agencies, biologists, environmental scientists and other academics. To achieve ASC or BAP certification, organizations must be audited annually by a qualified and impartial third-party assessor who is independently accredited through a comprehensive process. These auditors often require improvements to be made before certification can be issued. In other words, getting certified is not easy and cannot be bought.
Myth # 3: Aquaculture certifications do no good for the marine ecosystem.
Think again. In addition to ensuring that farmed fish are safe and nutritious to eat, protecting marine habitats and preserving wildlife are the main reasons aquaculture certifications were created. The long list of standards that auditors adhere to include regulations to protect vulnerable natural areas, preserve water quality, reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals, control the spread of disease and pests. and use more sustainable foods. These stringent requirements for fish farmers make aquaculture a viable and sustainable food source for the world, and therefore help reduce the destructive overfishing of wild populations.
Myth # 4: Aquaculture certifications are only for large companies in developed countries.
It is true that large organizations, which have larger budgets and staff, are usually the first to adopt new standards and seek certifications. However, certification bodies like ASC and GSA recognize the need to help small businesses and even smallest family farms achieve certification so that they can meet buyer demands and remain competitive in the market. Different levels of certification, such as single site certificates for small farms or group certificates that can cover entire farming communities, make realistic standards achievable on a modest budget.
Myth # 5: Certification auditors are the “fish police” sent to crack down on non-compliant farmers.
This myth is circulating among fish farmers themselves. Certification auditors, hired by company management, often receive a cold welcome when they come to the job site to inspect their operations. Some employees mistakenly believe that auditors will report them for any violations or complicate their work. But the point is, listeners and fish farmers want the same result. Auditors work with employees to better understand their day-to-day procedures and implement changes to help them work more efficiently and responsibly to achieve the certification they seek. Implementing these best practices not only protects the environment, it protects the job security of aquaculture workers.
Our best bet
Despite all the disheartening news about climate change, declining wildlife populations and escalating hunger around the world, aquaculture is a silver lining. While there is certainly still room for improvement, aquaculture offers an opportunity to turn the tide in several ways, invigorating our oceans while providing the world with a sustainable source of healthy and desirable protein. But to have a significant positive impact, aquaculture must be conducted in the right way, with the greatest respect for food safety, environmental protection and social responsibility. This is what makes the certification process so essential and labels like ASC Farmed Responsibly so meaningful.
Photo courtesy of Adam Daddino / SCS Global Services