Seafood certification programs address COVID-19 crisis with extensions, interim policies

Published on
April 1, 2020

Certification programs are adjusting practices and policies in response to safety concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to support businesses in an already challenged industry.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), and Fair Trade have all made initial accommodations to reduce travel and in-person interaction while retaining the integrity of their programs. Each organization is also in the process of assessing their specific procedures for potential further changes as they monitor the global situation relating to COVID-19.

For the GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) program, integrity and certification officers have been working with the seven BAP-accredited certification bodies (CBs) to provide extensions as they evaluate the specific circumstances of farms, hatcheries, processing plants, and feed mills – effectively determining a course forward on a case-by-case basis. As a part of this endeavor, BAP officers are also working with CBs to figure out which audit functions can be administered remotely.

Additionally, GAA and members of BAP’s market development team have been working with retail and foodservice partners to support their efforts in meeting sustainability goals, despite supply chain disruptions, the organization said.

Meanwhile, Fair Trade USA has released an interim policy as a part of its “Approach to Certification Accommodation,” which recognizes that an audit involves the visit of an external individual to a site, creating uncertainty and risk of possible coronavirus contamination.

“To support all individuals involved in our programs…accommodations to certification operations are being implemented, effective immediately. The policy includes direction to certified producers, applicant producers, and licensed traders and provides guidance on audits, duration, limits and requesting exceptions,” Fair Trade said.  

For first time in the MSC’s 22-year history as an organization, the certifier is offering fisheries a six-month extension on their usual timelines for MSC assessments and certifications. Fisheries can go ahead with remote audits and existing timelines, if desired by the client and agreed to by the certification body, MSC explained.

The measures were agreed upon unanimously by the MSC’s board of trustees, and have been in effect as of 27 March, 2020. For companies holding MSC Chain of Custody certificates, audits can still be conducted remotely, MSC said, but if the execution becomes complicated due to the impacts of COVID-19, a six-month extension can be requested.

All three certification programs have said they will go beyond policy revisions to support fishermen and the seafood industry over the next few months. Fair Trade is engaging fishers, fish farmers, and workers to get a better sense of their changing needs, and is sharing information on best practices that can be adopted by producers.

“We will be looking to keep workers and communities safe. Fair Trade is also assessing ways that producers can use their premium funds for emergency needs for sick or quarantined workers and their families or protective equipment and practices,” Fair Trade said. 

Similarly, MSC is addressing immediate key business concerns and other opportunities to help certificate holders and the seafood industry at large.

“The MSC is actively looking at how we can best support our valued partners through this exceptionally challenging time. The initial step to allow off-site audits will enable ongoing confidence in the MSC certified supply chain while also supporting global efforts to minimise the spread of coronavirus. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at other ways in which we can further adapt our program to minimise risks and support our partners as they grapple with the immediate challenges faced by the industry,” MSC Chief Science and Standards Officer Rohan Currey said.

GlobalG.A.P has made several resources available on its website about COVID-19, including a G.A.P. Talk Podcast: “How to Keep Your Certification During the Covid-19 Crisis.”

In a letter on GAA’s website, Wally Stevens provides further advice on dealing with COVID-19, reflecting on the organization’s concern for its certificate holders and partners as well as encouraging the collaborative spirit needed to come out of this pandemic as a healthy industry.

“Use this as an opportunity to reach out to family members, friends and business associates who you haven’t connected with in a while,” Stevens wrote. “Surprise someone by reaching out. It will brighten up their day as well as yours. And stay positive. The short-term sacrifices that we’re making now will pay dividends in the long run.”

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