Q&A: Chris Ninnes
With the number of certified products rising at a steady rate, what efforts is the ASC putting in to encourage uptake?
Breaking the 500th labelled product milestone recently was a fantastic step for us. We have also been impressed by the speed of the uptake, which has been an on-going trend since the logo was launched a year and a half ago. And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
The ASC logo design has been well received by the market so the time and effort that went into is development clearly paid off. Consumers indicate that the message is clear and the logo recognition has exceeded our expectations.
Esther Luiten joined ASC in October as European commercial marketing manager, and she will work with commercial stakeholders. This will be critical in linking supply and demand and increasing the number of products across all markets.
Sharing the Marine Stewardship Council’s Chain of Custody (CoC) and logo licensing back office makes a difference, as both teams bring a host of knowledge and multi-lingual competences to the process. This coupled with the ease of extending a current CoC certification to include ASC and the similarities of our logo licence agreements, make it a smooth process for existing MSC certified suppliers to become ASC certified. In fact, about 85 percent of ASC CoC holders are also MSC certified.
Has ASC become popular in all parts of the globe?
The ASC program has continued to grow steadily since the first standard was launched last year. There are already certified farms in seven countries worldwide — from Ecuador, Costa Rica and Honduras in the west, to Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan in Asia.
ASC has made tremendous progress on the standards front. Tilapia and pangasius are already well established in the market. This year, we also launched the salmon standard. The freshwater trout, abalone, bivalves and shrimp standards will be available before the year end once auditors have concluded mandatory training courses. By 2014 we will reach full capacity with all eight standards live. This means we will soon see more certified farms in other regions across Europe, South America and Australia. We are also continuing the work on our feed standard, which will be piloted during 2014.
To achieve a wider market reach our program must be accessible for producers globally, many who farm at small-scale. ASC is working on developing a group certification scheme that will allow groups of farmers to collectively seek and share the costs of certification. It will be piloted next year, and we hope to take it live before the year-end.
We also plan to develop standards for other species in the future, based on potential impacts and market needs.
Regarding our global product reach, we now have products across 24 countries. The growth in Europe has been fastest with great support from European retailers. For example, this September we ran our first consumer campaign, Think Fish Week, with our partners MSC-NL and WWF-NL, to raise awareness of responsible aquaculture among Dutch consumers. Over 85 percent of Dutch retailers participated as well as food service provider Sodexo.
The uptake in North America has also been positive; in particular in Canada thanks to the support of some key retailers. And the Japanese market is showing clear signs of warming up to the ASC, largely due to the upcoming launch of certified salmon and shrimp. Leading retailers are showing their interest, which is very encouraging.
Our next step is to branch out to emerging and middle-income markets as these hold the future for aquaculture. To make a real difference and to deliver our goal of global responsible fish farming, it is key that we establish our presence in these markets.
A recent paper in Science argues that aquaculture certification has limits as a means of governing sustainable production, and that private certification has gained prominence because of a fear of under-regulation by governments and is now blamed for being inflexible, divisive and restrictive. What is the ASC’s response?
I don’t think certification by private labels is the real issue, particularly if a standard setting organization is independent of the decision to grant a certificate. Third party systems do this by separating the functions of standard setting, accreditation and auditing. For a public body such as a fisheries department or other state funded organization it would be difficult to separate the functions of ‘rule-setting’ and assessing whether the rules had been met.
We collaborate with other organizations whenever possible. We still work closely with WWF and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) on various projects. For example, we are working with IDH on initiatives such as the Farmers in Transition Fund (FIT), which complements ASC’s Farms in Transition program. The IDH FIT fund has been created to stimulate and support the production of responsibly farmed shrimp. This will help producers gain greater access to ASC certification.
We also have an agreement with Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and GlobalGAP to work towards making certification more accessible for farmers and processors. Work is already underway to harmonise the requirements of our respective feed standards as much as possible. This will stimulate the feed industry to develop feed that is more sustainable.
In China we are working with the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA) and WWF China to help drive the Chinese Tilapia aquaculture industry towards a more sustainable basis. We are also continuing to build outreach activities in emerging markets, such as Brazil.
Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing production sectors in the world. It has enormous potential to alleviate food security issues and reduce the pressure on wild capture on a global scale. However, it is commonly agreed that the sector needs to address the negative impacts on the environment and on society that can be caused by fish farming.
ASC’s mission is to drive aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility. It is a goal that we share with many others. It is only through working in collaboration that we can make a true difference and have a positive impact at the scale that we aim for. Our market-based approach is designed to complement other systems. Industry, governments, researchers and NGOs need to work together if we are to reduce the impact of the aquaculture sector globally.