Aquaculture is the world’s fastest growing food-production industry, increasing at a rate of around 8 per cent year-on-year, which is nearly double that of most other sectors, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The FAO further forecasts that by 2030, two-thirds of the seafood we consume will be farm produced, up from its present level of just over 50 per cent.
While organic aquaculture is relatively new and is currently limited to just a small number of countries and species, it is nevertheless growing in importance as consumers become more environmentally aware and anxious that production systems should adhere to responsible practices. In the same way that organic principles are applied to farming on land, for an increasing number of consumers, particularly in northern Europe, it is important that the organic values of health, ecology, fairness and care are also applied to fish and shellfish farming.
Today, organic aquaculture represents around 1 per cent of European fish-farm production.
Over the past decade, the number of private-label organic standards and certifying bodies has grown in line with the increase in production. Unfortunately, when comparing those still in existence, there continues to be strong variations in their criteria and requirements.
Behind the scenes, there are a number of efforts underway to address these challenges, particularly focusing on the confusion that they create in the marketplace. It should be noted that some ground has already been covered in this regard by the European Union through the organic regulation it introduced in 2010 to give the aquaculture industry a consistent definition.
The EU’s rules, which were accompanied by a new EU organic logo, specify that biodiversity should be respected, and that induced spawning by artificial hormones is not allowed. Organic feeds should be used and supplemented by fish feeds derived from sustainably managed fisheries. Maximum stocking densities—a measurable indicator for welfare—are also specified. Furthermore, producers are not permitted to use oxygenation systems to increase production, or copper-based and other toxic anti-foulants to clean cages.
Salmon is currently the only organic fish in Pittman Seafoods’ product portfolio, and thanks to high consumer demand, it is also by far the leading organic species produced in Europe in terms of total output.
According to the latest statistics published by the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), of the 1.5 million metric tons of farmed salmon produced in Europe in 2012, some 20,600 metric tons or 1.4 per cent was organic. The main producing nations are Norway, the UK and Ireland, and producers in these countries have said they will continue to ramp up their organic yields to meet future increases in market demand.
There are three main differences between organic salmon and regular farmed salmon. Firstly, organic fish are nourished with a diet containing only organic-approved natural ingredients from sustainable sources, with fishmeal and oil derived from the trimmings of fish caught for human consumption. All ingredients are free from genetically modified organisms. Secondly, the maximum stocking density for organic salmon is set at 10kg per cubic metre (less than half that of conventional farms) to allow them to follow their natural shoaling behaviour. Thirdly, organic production sites are continuously flushed with clean water to prevent any build-up of parasites or pollutants.
While these measures make organic salmon production more labour-intensive and costly, there are clear market rewards too. As a result, a number of companies currently producing conventional salmon only are now evaluating the costs and benefits of diversifying into organic production.