At this year’s Seafood Expo Global in Brussels (26–28 April), it was announced that the number of aquaculture farms certified to the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) had grown by 55% in the last 12 months to 247. At the same time, the ASC has expanded into new countries with certified farms now also found in Japan, the US and Germany.
Indeed, the number of ASC-certified farms has grown rapidly in the five years since the tilapia standard was launched in 2012. But what is the ASC, what does it do, and why is it important?
Founded in 2010, with the first products reaching the market two years later, the ASC is an independent, international non-profit organisation that has developed a certification programme for responsible aquaculture.
Much in the same way that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard with its familiar blue eco-label applies to wild-caught fish, crustaceans and shellfish, the ASC trademark applies to responsibly farmed seafood. Products bearing this mark are sourced from farms that are able to demonstrate respect for the environment as well as their adherence to strict guidelines relating to food additives and social conditions.
The main task of the ASC is the introduction and management of the standards developed for each species of seafood. At present, eight standards have been developed, covering salmon, tilapia, pangasius, abalone, bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops), shrimp and seriola/cobia. But more are in the pipeline.
To retain its independent position, the ASC works with a programme for independent assessment and certification by third parties. Essentially, this means that the ASC does not assess fish farms itself. Instead, certificates are issued by an independently accredited certifying agency, which carries out the assessment of fish farms and decides whether they meet the ASC standards for responsible production.
These standards cover seven core principles:
- Legal compliance
- Preservation of the natural environment and biodiversity
- Preservation of water resources
- Preservation of diversity of species and wild populations (e.g., preventing escapes that could pose a threat to wild fish)
- Responsible use of animal feed and other resources
- Animal health (no unnecessary use of antibiotics and chemicals)
- Social responsibility (e.g., no child labour, health and safety of workers)
With the world’s population expected to grow to an estimated nine billion people within 25 years, the global need for protein will increase. Meeting this demand will require innovative solutions that enable more food to be produced from a fixed resource base.
The aquaculture industry offers one such viable solution since aquatic animals are much more efficient at feed conversion than terrestrial animals. At the same time, wild-capture fisheries have plateaued. But as well as becoming more proficient, it is essential the aquaculture industry grows in a responsible manner — creating more products without increasing the environmental and social impacts.
According to the ASC, many fish farms believe that certification has helped them to maintain their position in existing markets and tap into new ones. At the same time, the growing demand for responsible products is a strong incentive to demonstrate their engagement.
However, the ASC has also recognised that the increased supply of certified products has led to growing interest from leading companies to engage consumers and further their understanding about certified seafood. To help service partners, it launched its first marketing toolkit at the Brussels expo and confirmed that in the year ahead it would “intensify the cooperation with partners” to build consumer understanding that by making a conscious choice to buy certified seafood, they become a “vital partner” in its efforts to bring real change to the industry.
Pittman Seafoods always takes a responsible approach to sourcing from wild fisheries and aquaculture, and strives to supply certified fish or a viable alternatives whenever possible. We are both MSC and ASC certified, and our current offering includes ASC-certified salmon and mussels. We also work with the independent Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) to offer socially responsible fish, which may or may not carry a logo or certificate.
Crucially, we always know precisely where our fish comes from. All our products have full traceability, which is extremely important in maintaining quality and safety.