Aquaculture council enters implementation phase

Published on
February 2, 2011

Farmed seafood bearing the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) eco-label should be launched into consumer markets this year, but there’s a huge amount of ground that needs to be covered in order to achieve this goal, the organization announced on Wednesday.

Co-founded in 2009 by the World Wide Fund (WWF) and the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative, the non-profit ASC organization is now poised to launch into its implementation phase, which Jose Villalon, director of aquaculture for WWF and chair of the ASC, said is a “remarkable achievement” considering the recent economic climate.

“This is the first time an aquaculture standard has been created under the ISEAL (International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance) code, and that’s an incredibly positive factor — to have had more than 2,400 participants over the last five years engaged in creating standards adds a wealth of value and confidence to buyers.

“When our ‘outreach’ is completed and the major retailers, foodservice suppliers etc. understand what [ASC’s] difference is, that’s when you’ll see the value of what we’re doing,” said Villalon.

Philip Smith, CEO of the ASC, said: “It’s a journey we have started and we have a tremendous amount of learning to do as we embark on implementation of these standards. We’re consciously not trying to reinvent the wheel and are looking to align ourselves alongside bodies like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). But there are some areas in which we are quite different, particularly at the front-end of the industry.”

Smith acknowledged that while a huge amount of emphasis has been placed on the WWF-directed Aquaculture Dialogue process, lots of attention is needed elsewhere, such as a thorough look at chain-of-custody assessments.

The ASC is aware that it also needs to address the “gray areas” of accountability and accreditation that surround enhanced fisheries, as well as some of the more contentious aspects of fish feed.

“There are a lot of challenges, especially in the developing world with fish like pangasius and tilapia so it’s really important that all stakeholders are aware of what our realistic timetable is, and to understand how much resource – both financial and human – needs to be put into these areas in order to make changes,” said Smith. “There’s also an awful lot of data-deficiency in this world of ours.

“But it’s very clear that if aquaculture is to realize its true potential then we, as an industry, have to address some significant social and environmental impacts,” he continued. “Therefore, it is our proposal that we have a consumer label ready by the middle of this year and through that label we can encourage consumers to recognize and further encourage responsible aquaculture in their purchasing.”

Peter Hajipieris, director of sustainability and external affairs with Birds Eye Iglo and a member of the ASC supervisory board, told SeafoodSource that the first ASC-branded products are likely to appear in the retail market toward the end of 2011.

He also explained work is still being done behind the scenes on the design of the ASC logo that will be used on-pack.

Initially, the Aquaculture Dialogues focused on a dozen species groups that were selected due to the extent by which they are traded, their market value and the impacts they have on the environment and society.

Those 12 are salmon, shrimp, pangasius, tilapia, freshwater trout, oysters, abalone, mussels, clams, scallops, amberjack (seriola) and cobia.
Smith said the ASC estimated the current combined annual market value of these groups at around EUR 22 billion (USD 30.4 billion), but that he’s quite sure that value will double over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Villalon confirmed the council’s standards will be rolled out to other farmed seafood in time but that due diligence will be taken with some new farmed species and that expanding the program to these products doesn’t sit high on ASC’s current agenda.
“The ASC is about improvement over time,” he said.

He explained four dialogue standards have been completed to date: bivalves (oysters, mussels, scallops and clams), tilapia, pangasius and abalone. The other four dialogues are in progress with the shrimp standards expected to be completed next, by the end of March, followed by trout in May, salmon at the end of July, and cobia/amberjack by the end of October.

“After the completion of each standard there’s a period of about six to eight months to complete the guidance document for implementation,” said Villalon. “Obviously, the ASC can’t do anything until they receive that guidance document, but we are ready to go on the first three (tilapia, pangasius and the bivalves).”

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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