Seafood Watch upgrades ASC-certified farmed salmon to “Good Alternative”

The Monterey Bay Aquarium announced on 5 June at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit its decision to upgrade farmed salmon certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council to its yellow, “Good Alternative” in its Seafood Watch sustainable seafood ranking.

The announcement also marked the beginning of a formal partnership between Seafood Watch and the ASC, which will see the two organizations collaborate on research and seek to improve best practices in salmon aquaculture.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendation that consumers buy ASC-certified salmon further demonstrates the growing collaboration and synergy between the programs to promote the purchasing of responsibly farmed seafood,” ASC CEO Chris Ninnes said. 

Ryan Bigelow, program engagement manager for Seafood Watch, said his program decided to back ASC because of its new commitments to mandate further reductions in wild fish inputs used in aquafeed. The ASC partnership also shows that Seafood Watch “is willing to cooperate,” he said. 

“For us there’s quite a few benefits to this. First, salmon is the most important species out there, and so it has a very high profile in the eye of both in industry and the public,” Bigelow said. “In addition, while we have a lot of scientists on staff, we do not have ability to look at every farm in the world, so finding process like ASC, which has a reputable rating scheme we can refer to, is very helpful. Also, for us to show that finally we can collaborate and collaborate publicly shows we’re not out there beating the industry’s head with a stick. “

The move up the ranking – almost all salmon raised via aquaculture was previous ranked as red, or “Avoid,” in the SeafoodWatch ranking – marks a watershed moment for the sustainability credentials of farmed salmon, according to Peter Redmond, ASC’s vice president of market development for North America. Since nearly a quarter of all farmed salmon produced globally is ASC-certified, global consumers will now have significantly more access to sustainable farmed salmon in retail stores and restaurants, making it much easier for consumers to make an informed decision over the seafood they purchase, he said. It will also give participants in ASC’s certification scheme leverage with buyers who require Seafood Watch yellow or green ratings as a precondition for purchase.

“For us, it’s an absolutely massive announcement,” Redmond said. “This gives us the opportunity to partner up and back up ASC’s ratings system with a certification system behind it. It’s one thing to rate, and another to certify, but when you get them together, it’s a wonderful way to harmonize what we’re doing.”

As someone who works with biz, very sensitive to problems biz faces because of many standards in marketplace, biz wants harmonization, but as an environmentalist if you harmonize to lower or even middle common denominator, not doing anyone any favors, but news about this is harmonized up to high standard. Great to see some clarity in the marketplace but as an enviro see it’s not a compromise on standards.

Avrim Lazar, representing the Global Salmon Initiative, which represents producers responsible for more than 50 percent of the world’s farmed salmon production, praised the move.

“As someone who works with business, I’m very sensitive to problems business faces because of the many standards in marketplace,” he said. “Business wants harmonization, but as an environmentalist, if you harmonize, that usually means you have to sink to a lower common denominator,” he said. “But the great news about this is that they’ve harmonized up to a high standard. From a business perspective, it’s great to see some clarity in the marketplace, and as an environmentalist, it’s just as great to see it’s not a compromise on standards.”

Members of the GSI have committed to become 100 percent ASC-certified by 2020, and have also set the goal of producing more than 1 million tons of salmon annually by 2025.

“The members of the GSI are making excellent progress towards their ASC commitment,” Lazar said “And through this harmonization of the two highest environmental standards, coupled with rapidly increasing supply, we hope to see even more commitment to ASC products from the market place.”

The announcement of the partnership met with resistance from Sea Choice, a Canada-based conservation consortium. The group criticized ASC’s allowance of numerous variances from its standard criteria for certification.

“We’re concerned that the salmon standard – as evaluated by Seafood Watch – is not being applied,” Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from the Living Oceans Society, said. “Every farm certified in Canada departs from the standard and requires variances to the ASC’s environmental health requirements.”

SeaChoice said it objected to the “Good Alternative” upgrade because Seafood Watch did not review ASC’s granted variances in its benchmarking process. The group expressed particular concern over variances regarding sea lice control. 

“We have always maintained that the regulation of sea lice in Canada is inadequate to protect wild fish, especially small juveniles as they begin their migration,” said John Werring, senior policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, a SeaChoice member. “By allowing variances, ASC has diluted the value of its own standard to protect wild fish.”


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