World’s salmon farms eco-certified despite missing requirements

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By Milthon Lujan

Vancouver, Canada.- A review of salmon farm eco-certification practices around the world by SeaChoice reveals that your farmed salmon might be less sustainable than the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) eco-logo leads you to believe – only a small proportion of farms meet stipulated ASC criteria, yet they are still being certified.

“Eco-certification by a reputable organization like the ASC should indicate farms with excellent practices that meet strict criteria, without exceptions. Instead we found that only about 20 per cent of salmon farms around the world actually follow the criteria as written. People aren’t getting what they think they’re getting with the label,” said Kelly Roebuck, lead author of the report and SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans Society.

The report is the first global review to examine how well salmon farms performed to meet the ASC’s Salmon Standard, how sustainable they really are and the effects of amendments to the Standard. Two-hundred and fifty-seven farms, including farms in Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway and Scotland, were reviewed from the first certification in 2014 to March 15, 2018. This represents the majority of the world’s salmon farming regions.

ASC’s Salmon Standard requires 100 per cent compliance for successful certification. But the report found that in practice, neither the Standard nor the auditors’ guidance document is being followed as written. Instead, variances and interpretations are operating as de facto amendments of those documents, while operational reviews have been used to formally alter—and weaken—the Standard. All of these changes erode the claim that ASC certifies only best practices.

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“Amendments to the Standard are overriding the multi-stakeholder agreements on which the Standard’s social licence is based. As a result, many of the intentions of the original Standard have been eroded,” stated John Werring, SeaChoice representative from the David Suzuki Foundation.

SeaChoice member groups were involved in the six year long salmon aquaculture dialogues, along with industry and other NGOs, which resulted in the Salmon Standard.

Variances are allowing significant alterations to Standard criteria, changing its original intent and enabling farms that would not comply to be certified. Canadian farms with sea lice loads up to 149 times higher than the Standard and farms in Norway and Chile using sea lice chemical treatments up to 330 per cent higher than the Standard have received or maintained ASC certification.

ASC interpretations provided to auditors also breached the 100 per cent compliance requirement or violated the auditors’ guidance document’s rules. For example, an ASC interpretation allows auditors to omit intermediary stages (e.g. smolt or early grow-out net-pens) of the production cycle from assessment, allowing up to a year of production and resulting environmental impacts to be excluded from compliance. Consequently, an ASC label does not guarantee the fish was “farmed responsibly” from egg to harvest.

Also worrying, ASC is proposing changes that would shift the Standard to an ‘aquaculture improvement project’ approach. A proposed sea lice treatment amendment would allow up to a 450 per cent increase at some farms, compared to what is currently required in the amount of allowable chemical treatments and further allow some regions up to 15 years to reach an aspirational ‘global target’ metric.

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“Eco-certifications are at risk of losing credibility and consumer trust. They only work when standards get followed and lead to genuine changes on the water. They can’t just reward business as usual,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director of Living Oceans Society.

SeaChoice is calling on the ASC to immediately correct amendments that weaken the Standard’s stated goal of best practice certification. “We’re reaching out to ASC and are hopeful they will consider implementing key recommendations from this report in order to maintain the intent of the Standard,” said Roebuck.

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