ASC's Chris Ninnes talks responsible aquaculture, certification plans

Almost five years after the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) was set up, Nicki Holmyard spoke to CEO Chris Ninnes about the organization’s progress in promoting responsible aquaculture production and his plans for 2015.

What have been your main achievements to date?

ASC was founded in April 2010 but it wasn’t until mid-2012 that farms could gain ASC certification, and until last year only tilapia and pangasius standards were available. Growth since then has been dramatic, with seven farm standards, more than 100 farms certified, 70 others engaged with the program, and more than 1,700 approved products across 40 countries.

Twenty percent of the Vietnamese pangasius industry is ASC certified, the Global Salmon Initiative, representing over 70 percent of the salmon aquaculture industry, has committed to achieving ASC certification by 2020, and last year, the Belize Shrimp Growers Association, representing 90 percent of farmed shrimp production in Belize, entered assessment against the ASC Shrimp Standard. These fantastic initiatives demonstrate that fish farming can be undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

There has also been an increase in demand for certified supply, in particular from Europe, North America and Japan.

How closely do you work with other organizations?

I believe it is essential to work collaboratively with our commercial partners, governments, NGOs and other certification schemes to promote sustainable supply.

To work efficiently, we share the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Chain of Custody (CoC) process, and their licensing team manages use of our logo.

We work closely with the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and GlobalGAP to help achieve efficiencies across our programs, and have been comparing standards to identify overlap, as we hope to conduct joint audits in the future.

Are you working on any new standards?

We currently operate seven standards and seriola and cobia standards are under development. This approach requires multiple accreditation processes, auditor training and sets of documentation. To improve efficiencies we are reviewing all the standards, with the aim of consolidating common areas into a core standard with “add-ons” for issues specific to a particular species or production method. This will reduce the development time for new standards and help us to add new species.

We are working collaboratively on a feed standard with experts throughout the supply chain and with IFFO, GAA and GlobalGAP to reduce the key impacts of the main feed ingredients used in fish farming. This is on track to be finalized by the end of 2015.

A new aquaculture dialogue for grouper, snapper and barramundi was started by WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in 2013. Other species will follow, and likely candidates will be sea bass, sea bream and seaweed. However, first we want to look at the results of our “harmonization” project before initiating new standard development.

How do you get retailers and seafood brands to commit to supplying ASC certified products?

ASC has great support from European retailers, which has been helped by making the standards visible during the development phase, when businesses join in the process.

The high uptake of companies committing to ASC has also been helped by our collaboration with the MSC on the CoC process. Around 85 percent of ASC CoC holders are also MSC CoC certified, and it is a simple matter to add one to the other.

Has the Think Fish initiative in the Netherlands been successful in introducing more people to certified products?

I am very pleased with the results of the Think Fish Week, which was initiated by ASC, MSC Netherlands and WWF Netherlands as a joint consumer campaign. The aim is to promote ASC and MSC certified fish and inform consumers about how they can make a difference through their seafood purchases in the supermarket.

The second Think Fish Week in 2014 saw 86 percent of Dutch supermarkets participate and in total, 15 brands and suppliers joined the campaign, along with food service provider Sodexo. It has certainly helped to raise ASC’s profile in the Netherlands.

This year, we are also launching the Think Fish Week in Belgium, which will help to strengthen our brand throughout the Benelux region.

Do you have any exciting plans for 2015?

We will be piloting a group scheme to ensure that certification is attainable for small to medium-sized operations, as well as making it more efficient for larger farms to enter the program.

2015 will see ASC certified bivalves on the market, and I am confident that we will grow the salmon program this year to reach a global scale.

The future success of certification as a tool to drive and verify improving practices will only happen if we are seen as having relevance and adding value in the fast-developing middle income and emerging economy markets such as Brazil and India. We will focus on engaging better with businesses, governments and civil society organizations to make this happen.

I certainly look forward to the development of the ASC program in Brazil, where we’ve seen wonderful commitment with the State of Rio assisting 30 farms to enter the ASC program in readiness for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which is committed to sourcing ASC products. This is very exciting news and the result of much ongoing hard work!


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