Corporate Responsibility | January 26, 2011 |
How Aquaculture Can Feed the World’s Appetite for Sustainable Seafood
The need for additional sources of sustainable seafood is clear. Thirty five percent of key commercial fish stocks are currently in danger of being overharvested, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This decline is happening as the world’s population is predicted to add 3 billion people over the next 30 years—not to mention the additional pressures that oil spills, dead zones and climate change have on fish stocks.
Aquaculture has potential to help bridge the gap between the demands of a growing population and production from wild fisheries. By volume, almost half of the seafood the world consumes comes from aquaculture and it’s one of the fastest growing food production systems in the world. As the practice has grown in scale, however, some severe environmental impacts have arisen. Some of these impacts include increased incidence of diseases, parasites and concentrations of organic wastes that cause fish-killing algal blooms.
Some aquaculture practices have taken a toll on wild fish stocks as wild juvenile fish have been overharvested as stock for farms. In some cases, large numbers of farmed fish have escaped from their pens, competing for food and habitat with wild populations. Some fishing communities have been adversely affected because aquaculture operations used cheap, “throwaway” fish for fishmeal, taking away locally important food sources, resulting in the displacement of coastal communities.
To its credit, the aquaculture industry has begun to address these problems and sustainable practices are becoming more widespread. These include reducing the use of fishmeal and fish oil in feeding farmed fish, which results in a more efficient use of resources. It has begun to focus on better control of effluents and using hatchery production rather than capturing wild juveniles.
Recently, the industry has made strides towards creating widely accepted standard for sustainable aquaculture practices. The World Wildlife Fund and The Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative have sponsored the development of The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), an organization that will create voluntary standards for sustainable aquaculture. The ASC, expected to be in operation by 2011, is being formed through a multi-stakeholder process that is aimed at creating a widely accepted and effective standard. A group of producers, seafood processors, retail and food service companies, scientists, government agencies, conservation groups and the public has been involved in stakeholder feedback during its development.
The ASC has selected species based on their potential impact on the environment and society, their market value and the extent to which they are traded internationally or have potential for trade. Selected species include salmon, shrimp, tilapia, pangasius, freshwater trout, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, abalone, amberjack and cobia.
In order to earn certification, aquaculture operations will be required to undergo audits by independent third-party accreditation organizations and certification bodies. They will be required to reduce water pollution, eliminate inappropriate use of antibiotics and use responsibly sourced fishmeal in feed. Those operations that meet certification criteria will be able to use the ASC ecolabels on their products. Businesses throughout the supply chain can become certified through the ASC’s chain of custody program, which tracks seafood to ensure that consumers are actually purchasing the seafood that was certified at the farm.
One of the crucial aspects of a sustainable aquaculture standard will be how it supports the small businesses that make up much of the world’s aquaculture. Because smallholders often can’t afford investments in new sustainable technology or costs for assessments, the ASC is helping small businesses build their capacity to work towards compliance with the standards. They will provide support in financing new investments and provide training in best management practices.
The seafood industry can benefit from a widely accepted sustainable aquaculture standard by helping consumers navigate a confusing marketplace. A consumer trying to make a responsible seafood purchase will be empowered with information about which species are at risk, where fish was caught, and the method of fishing or farming. Dr. Sabine Daume, manager of sustainable seafood programs at third party auditor Scientific Certification Systems states, “The Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabel for wild-caught fish has been successful in simplifying communication about sustainability and helping consumers support responsible fishing. The ASC hopes to achieve similar consumer recognition and success as MSC.”
While the seafood industry has a strong incentive to help consumers and build the market for sustainable products, its ultimate goal must be to preserve the wild fisheries upon which they rely. If the industry can implement a more sustainable aquaculture system, it has a chance to help preserve one of the world’s key sources of food.
Photo by RyAwesome/flickr/Creative Commons
Nick Kordesch is a Communications Associate at Scientific Certification Systems. He holds a master’s degree in Environmental Science & Management from the University of California, Santa Barbara.