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Opposition is mounting against the World Wildlife Fund’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which will eventually take possession of the global standards for responsible seafood farming currently being developed by WWF’s Aquaculture Dialogues.

Formed in January, the ASC is modeled after the Marine Stewardship Council and will be responsible for hiring independent, third-party auditors to certify that fish farms comply with the standards. The WWF is funding the development of a business plan for the ASC, which is expected to be in operation within two years.

But in a letter to WWF last week, 70 international non-governmental organizations from five continents expressed opposition to the formation of the ASC, which they believe will support industrial aquaculture and harm local nvironments and indigenous communities.

The organizations are also concerned about WWF’s partnership with Sysco to help the foodservice giant develop a sustainable seafood sourcing strategy and the leadership of Jose Villalon, director of WWF’s aquaculture program, who used to work for salmon-farming giant Marine Harvest.

“The proposed certification by WWF promises to legitimize environmentally and socially damaging forms of aquaculture in the name of cheap prawns and salmon,” Natasha Ahmad, secretary of Asia Solidarity Against Industrial Aquaculture, told SeafoodSource. “It’s high time that WWF stops pandering to the interests of big business and instead begins to listen to the voices of real people that rely on the oceans and forests to survive.”

“Over the last two decades, local communities and traditional resource users have borne the brunt of the race to grow prawns for the consumers in the West,” said Dr. Maurizio Farhan Ferrari, environmental governance coordinator for the Forest Peoples Program in Gloucestershire, England. “Local communities are kept at a distance from shrimp farms by barbed wires and guards. In cases where local people are enticed into the business, the contract farming systems put in place by large aquaculture corporations to farm shrimp and salmon tend to be highly exploitative, offering little in terms of income or security for workers on the farms themselves.”

Looking ahead, ASC said it is rallying to expand its support network. “We will continue opposing these moves by WWF and seek to get them to finally sit at a common table with us to have a long overdue roundtable discussion about the issues we are concerned about,” said Alfredo Quarto, executive director of the Mangrove Action Project of Port Angeles, Wash. “We are meanwhile raising public awareness about the faults of these various certification schemes that have cropped up in the last few years.”

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