A new initiative led by the Ecuadorian seafood industry is aiming to improve the country's reputation as a source of safe and sustainable shrimp.
The Sustainable Shrimp Partnership was launched by seven founding members from Ecuador on Monday, 12 March at Seafood Expo North America. The SSP is a certification based on Aquaculture Stewardship Council standards, but with augmentations for water quality, traceability, and antibiotic usage.
“We are a group of leading companies who share one mission: to make shrimp aquaculture a clean, stable, and successful practice for the world. In order to reach our goal, we have set a clear and ambitious plan to elevate the whole sector to the next level,” the companies involved in forming the SSP announced in a joint press release. “SSP members are committed to achieving the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Standard. The ASC standard is widely recognized as the most challenging and stringent certification scheme for aquaculture, and as SSP members, we are not only committed to achieving it, but also by surpassing it by meeting SSP additional criteria.”
A major goal for the Ecuadorian companies involved in the initiative is to create differentiation for its shrimp in the U.S. marketplace, where Ecuador finds itself in a price war with India and other Asian countries, according to Karina Amaluisa, Ecuador’s trade commissioner in the Trade Office of Ecuador in New York. Ecuador is the fifth largest importer of shrimp to the United States, after India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“Competitors from Asia, chiefly India, present a product that is slightly less expensive, but they don’t have the quality of Ecuadorian shrimp,” Amaluisa told SeafoodSource. “The sector is seeking to promote this certification, because many of our companies have already implemented innovations related to traceability, quality control, and the elimination of the use of antibiotics, and we think that provides us a competitive advantage.”
While not included in the formal standards, the Ecuadorian shrimp industry can also claim high labor and social standards, Amaluisa added.
José Antonio Camposano, executive president of the National Chamber of Aquaculture from Ecuador, said the launch of SSP represented “a turning point.”
“Up until this point, the shrimp sector has been a commodity market, and quality has often taken a back seat to prices,” Camposano said. “However, there are consumers who want more choice. Consumers care about what they eat and how it has been produced, and it is time they were offered a choice of farmed shrimp that meets the highest standards and is fully traceable to its origins.”
The new standard includes a complete prohibition of the use of anitibiotics, a move Michael Gilmore, director of the Harvard Infectious Disease Institute and principle investigator of the Harvard-wide Program on Antibiotic Resistance, praised.
“This level of industry commitment in removing antibiotics from food production is a highly significant step in preserving the utility of drugs we have and reducing the likely spread of resistance,” Gilmore said. “This is the direction we need to see all food sectors taking.”
In addition to its standards, the SSP will also aim to create a farmed shrimp sustainability leadership roundtable; lead an industry scale-up program aimed at small and midsize farms in Ecuador; and drive consumer awareness of the quality difference the group says is found in Ecuadorian shrimp.
Initially, the World Wildlife Fund, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, and ASC will all have representation on the SSP’s advisory board. Jason Clay, WWF senior vice president for markets and food, said his organization supports the SSP’s mission.
“SSP has set ambitious targets,” Clay said. “Achieving ASC and ensuring full traceability will be no easy feat, but their recognition for what is necessary in today’s changing food market landscape sets them apart from many and will have impacts on the whole seafood sector.”
The launch of SSP also drew the interest of the Center for Science in the Public Interest , a nonprofit consumer advocacy group advocating for safer and healthier foods. CSPI Deputy Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher said the group will promote a “race to the top in social and environmental standards.”
“Members of the partnership should be applauded for their commitment,” Sorscher said. “We hope the food industry takes note of this important step, which serves as a call to action for further industry-wide improvements in shrimp and beyond.”
The SSP has invited any company or region that “shares its ambition and can meet the product criteria” to apply to join the organization. More information on the initiative can be found at its website.