Last week’s report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made for stark reading for anyone concerned about climate change. And we would argue that it should be cause for attention even for those that do not.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the report focuses on land use and climate change, and warns that increasing meat consumption, especially red meat, is fuelling global warming. The report also warned about the impact of food waste, inefficient land use, desertification and soil damage. Humans risk entering a vicious cycle where these factors speed up global warming, which in turn further damages the lands’ ability to absorb greenhouse gasses.

It’s sobering reading, particularly coming as it does after a period of extreme heatwaves in the Northern Hemisphere – 2019 is on course to be in the top three warmest years on record, as if further evidence were needed that these warnings must be acted on.

2019 has seen record high temperatures in many European cities. Image: ESA

 

 

 

The report authors didn’t recommend that everyone suddenly becomes vegetarian or vegan, but they do recommend people in the West particularly should be cutting down on the meat they eat, especially red meat. Beef and lamb account for half of all the greenhouse emissions produced by animal products.

But it’s important to remember that this isn’t simply a straight choice between eating meat or eating a plant-based diet. If we want to meet the protein demands of a growing population, seafood must be part of the solution.

Fish is one of the most efficient converters of feed into high quality food, with a lower carbon footprint compared to other animal production systems. It is already vital to the health of billions around the world, and for those of us looking to reduce the environmental impacts of our diets it can provide an affordable alternative to red meat that is healthier as well as better for the planet.

But – and there’s always a but – we all know about the risks of overfishing, and no one wants to increase the pressure on our depleted oceans. That’s where responsible aquaculture comes in. Fish farming can relieve the pressures on wild fish stocks, and in doing so help provide affordable, healthy protein to the world without exacerbating the issues highlighted by the UN’s report.

When considering the carbon footprint of popularly consumed proteins, aquaculture is far more sustainable than other methods of food production. Farmed salmon produces a fraction of the carbon generated by the beef industry and the pressure on the environment represented by feed to grow stock is the lowest by far with seafood production. And even taking into account the use of land for feed production, aquaculture can make a big contribution to land preservation. One recent study calculated that if aquaculture provided the world’s additional protein requirements in 2050 instead of agriculture, a global total of between 727 and 747 million land hectares could be saved – that’s an area of land twice the size of India.

Protein produced by aquaculture uses far less land than that from red meat

 

 

 

One word in this blog is more important than any other – responsible. If aquaculture is not done responsibly, as with all food production it can have a number of negative impacts. The world’s food and climate change crises won’t be solved with yet more irresponsible and badly planned food production systems.

ASC’s standards specifically address these potential impacts, requiring farms to meet requirements ranging from the strictly limited use of antibiotics, to the protection of local biodiversity and the monitoring of impacts to the sea floor, with many more in between (our Salmon Standard alone contains over 150 requirements). And our standards also include requirements to protect the local communities and fair wages and proper training, amongst other benefits, for the workers that help produce the fish.  This means, if you’re looking to replace steak with seafood but want to help maintain our oceans, lakes, and rivers, and support fair workplaces wherever the seafood is raised, you should look for the ASC logo.

Aside from providing an alternative protein source to red meat, you might not think aquaculture would have much else to do with a report that focuses on land use, rather than water use – but you’d be wrong. Many fish farms use feed that includes crop-derived ingredients, including soy, wheat, and rice. At ASC we recognise that for aquaculture to be truly responsible it must recognise the impacts of these land-based resources as well as marine ingredients.

ASC’s upcoming Feed Standard includes requirements on land as well as marine ingredients

 

 

 

That’s why our upcoming Feed Standard will include requirements on the sourcing of both land and marine ingredients for feed. Our current standards already include requirements on feed, but the new Feed Standard will replace these with a more holistic approach that recognises the diverse and sometimes highly complex supply chains that can be involved in fish feed. The new standard is in its final stages of development, with pilot assessments currently underway, and it’s expected to be released towards the end of 2019.

The diversity of ingredients that can go into feed used in aquaculture shows how interconnected issues around food security, climate change and land use, among other things, can be. What we do at sea can affect the land, and both can affect, and be affected by, climate change. But the opportunities to solve problems are also interconnected – so, for example, aquaculture can help to take the pressure off the land and reduce the environmental impact of our diets. But only if it’s done responsibly.

 

When the salmon standard was originally drafted there was limited information available on how often salmon were treated to remove sea lice. ASC has more recently been able to collect a wide range of treatment information and it has been possible to design new ASC requirements based on the statistical analysis of this data. Records submitted to ASC as a requirement of farm certification, provided by the members of the Global Salmon Initiative and those available through government agencies were all used. To lead this work a multi-stakeholder Technical Working Group was established to provide advice into the ASC’s governance system, including on the feedback received from two public consultation rounds conducted in December 2015 and October 2017.

In the absence of information about current industry practice, the Parasiticide Treatment Index (PTI)  was devised and embedded in the original salmon standard. The resulting PTI calculation involved a number of assumptions related to the frequency of use, impact and toxicity of treatments out of necessity. The implications of these assumptions are explored (Payne, 2015) and the paper formed the basis of the first public consultation on the topic. The analysis of a comprehensive data set on the frequency of treatment use revealed three important contributions to the design of the revised PTI requirements.

First, there is a large variation in current farm performance between the various production countries with PTI-scores ranging from 0 in all countries to 400 in Scotland (p.4) while the current metric limit is set at 13. Eighty-two percent  of the observed variance can be attributed to the environmental differences between countries (p.6). This highlights the difficulty of devising a single global metric that would consistently incentivise the performance improvements required in the frequency of use of paraciticide treatments..

Secondly, PTI-performance also differs significantly between years (P<0.001; p.7) and this variance is attributed not to prior company performance but yearly variation in sea lice abundance.

Finally, the current PTI-calculation is silent on the use of treatments that target only infected pens within a farm; a practice increasingly used to target very early infestations of lice. This reduces intra-site amplification of lice loads, and reduces the overall need for subsequent treatments and the risk of developing treatment resistant sea lice. In the original PTI-calculation a partial treatment is considered equal to a farm-wide treatment (p.8), thereby overstating incorrectly the ‘calculated’ environmental impact of partial treatments and potentially discouraging their use.

The second analysis (Revie, 2018) reviewed country specific distributions of treatment frequency over 896 farm production cycles. Within this analysis details on the characteristics of the data used (p.4), the global and regional distribution curves (p.8-16) as well as on the availability and suitability of publicly available information (p.23-33) are presented. The key observations were:

1) Sea lice treatments differ significantly between the various production regions (p.12-15);

2) Identical percentiles (e.g. 20th, 33rd, 50th) represent different number of treatments applied per region (p.12-15); and

3) Publicly available data sets have not yet reached the point of maturity at which they could operate as useful substitutes to the types of data that have been assembled as part of the TWG work (p.23-33).

In conclusion the TWG and the TAG concluded the need for the ASC to adopt a regional approach when establishing PTI limits.

On the basis of these analyses and recommendations the ASC board approved a number of changes to indicators 5.2.5 and 5.2.6 related to the PTI in the salmon standard.

Measurement of parasiticide load is calculated using the Weighted Number of Medicinal Treatments (WNMT);

Partial treatments are counted as proportional to the ratio of treated pens to the total number of pens within the farm;

The Global Level is set at 3 WNMT, except for cases when a double bath treatment is applied. In which case the level would be set at 4 WNMT;

A Regional Entry Level is based on the 50th percentile of the relevant regional distribution curve obtained from the second statistical study;

A 25% reduction in WNMT is required by farms over a two-year period until the GL is achieved; and

That farms shall be required to make an IPM-plan publicly available, and that the plan should be signed off by a relevant professional (e.g. farm veterinarian).

Notes:

1. WNMT includes treatments with hydrogen peroxide. These were not previously counted within the PTI index.

2. The previous PTI metric established a global level of approximately 2 treatments, which is less than the 20th percentile observed for all regional distributions other than Canada. The proposed Global Level falls between the 20th – 33rd percentile for the global distribution.

3. Double bath treatments are necessary for some chemical to maintain the efficacy of the treatment. The second bath treatment is undertaken a few days after the first bath.

4. The 50th percentile for each regional distribution curve results in the following Entry Level: Canada (1), Chile (9), Faroe Islands (6), Ireland (3), Norway (5), Scotland (9).

5. Given the skewed treatment frequency distributions observed an entry gate extends the reach of the incentives created by the ASC programme and will engage more farms within a defined improvement journey.

Introduction

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Freshwater Trout Standard has been updated and strengthened following a rigorous multi-stakeholder, science-based review process, as part of ASC’s ongoing commitment to continuously improve standards and adapt to changes in industry best practice.

The ASC operates a number of standards dedicated to different species groups and production systems; including the freshwater production of Tilapia and Pangasius and the production of Seriola, Cobia, flatfish and a number of tropical finfish species in the marine environment. The shrimp standard covers production in marine, brackish and freshwater systems.

It is widely acknowledged that since 2014, with the rapid development of aquaculture over the previous two decades, farmed finfish production has contributed more into global food supply than from wild capture fisheries. Perhaps less well known is that of the approximately 50 million tonnes of finfish farmed in 2016, 88% of this was farmed in freshwater. Only 6.3 mt of finfish were farmed in the marine environment and 35% of this is salmon.

The ASC operates two salmonid standards: one covering freshwater and the other marine, both however include provisions applicable to the production of freshwater smolts that were not well aligned.

Inconsistencies to resolve

The Freshwater Trout Standard applies to “…any salmonid grown in fresh water.” and audits require site inspection. The Salmon Standard also included requirements (Principle 8) regarding the production of freshwater smolts. Audits against Principle 8 are only based on information supplied by the smolt producer and no physical site visit is required.

Prior to these revisions cage-farmed salmon smolts assessed under Principle 8 were not allowed to be used to stock adult salmon grow out sites, even if they had been assessed and certified under the Freshwater Trout Standard.

A Science-led Process informed by robust governance and stakeholder consultation

In March 2019 the ASC’s Technical Advisory Group recommended to the Board that the scopes of the two standards be made consistent, that the Freshwater Trout Standard be applied to all freshwater salmonid farming and that for smolt production this would involve an on-site audit not previously required.

The proposed revisions were very actively debated within both the TAG and the Supervisory Board in response to public consultation feedback. A key concern identified recognised the risk of smolt escapes into fresh water habitats, particularly where they are not native. It was also recognised that the effectiveness of management to address the impacts of smolts production in freshwater lakes varied across regions. Recognising these concerns the update to the ASC trout standard does not now allow farms to raise smolts in freshwater where that species is not indigenous. This precautionary approach recognises that lake fauna are often unique to a region and at increased threat of any accidental introductions.

Additionally, revisions to the trout standard build on best management practices as outlined below.

Better Performance and Transparency for Fresh Water Smolt Production

ASC consistently looks to ensure better outcomes for the environment, farmers and the communities where fish is produced through controlled management of both the freshwater and saltwater environments. These revisions are consistent with the ASC’s vision and are grounded in sound science that will provide even greater insights of farm performance.”

Establishing production limits for smolts produced in lakes. A number of requirements are improved to ensure that the lake’s capacity to assimilate the farmed production is not exceeded. Modelling guidance is provided based on OECD guidelines (e.g. for establishing trophic status, phosphorous load limits, mixing dynamics etc.) and requirements to ensure no change to the trophic status can occur.

Genetic introgression of wild salmon stocks. The impacts and causes of wild salmon genetic introgression continue to be debated within the scientific and stakeholder community. Key unknowns continue to be the extent and rate of genetic introgression that has occurred and whether this results from farmed adult salmon escapes, freshwater smolt escapes, from the deliberate release of farmed salmon for stock enhancement or from natural straying. To address these uncertainties new indicators will require the development of genetic baselines and studies of the farmed and local wild salmonid populations. This historic baseline will provide a benchmark to assess future rates and sources of introgression into wild salmonid populations. Certified farms are also required to collaborate with local fisheries trusts and stakeholders in monitoring programmes and that fish escapes are communicated to the trusts.

Improvements to indicators for escapes and fish health

The revisions also strengthen the existing Appendix IV (Containment Plan) in order to improve the escape requirements. As an example, reference is made to the Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture as a best practice guide regarding overall containment improvements. Also, to bring the revised trout standard in line with other ASC standards antibiotics listed as critically important for human medicine are prohibited; although a temporary exemption for oxolinic acid is made, whose use is legally required in some jurisdictions.

This Saturday people around the globe will come together to celebrate World Oceans Day, the annual observation to help protect and conserve the world’s oceans for a better future.

A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival. Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, and contain 97 per cent of the Earth’s water. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Oceans provide the majority of the oxygen we breathe, clean the water we drink, regulate our climate and help feed our growing global population.

Every year, World Oceans Day offers an opportunity to celebrate and honor the ocean. On 8 June, people around the globe are encouraged to come together with their families, friends, and community, to take action to help protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

This year, the issue of plastic pollution will take centre stage as World Ocean Day’s annual conservation focus. Ocean plastic pollution can have serious economic consequences, as businesses and governments spend billions on clean up operations and litter removal, but could also pose a risk to human health. Scientists are finding that microplastics are entering the food chain, being consumed by fish and eventually ending up in our bodies.

But plastic pollution in the ocean is also one of the main threats to marine life. It affects all types of ocean wildlife from marine mammals like whales, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish to microscopic animals and corals.

The mass of plastic waste in the oceans is now so vast that it has been called the ‘seventh continent’. At the rate it is growing, scientists estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to the Solar Impulse Foundation.

Addressing aquaculture impacts

Two main sources account for more than 35 different plastic materials which can end up in the environment from aquaculture. The first is aquaculture gear such as nets, cage components, buoys, and pond liners, and the second is plastic tools and materials.

The negative impacts of aquaculture gear and marine litter on animals and the environment are numerous, including the risk of marine life ingesting or becoming entrapped or entangled in plastic debris, physical impact on the seabed, and disruption and loss of costal areas.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) current standards set criteria for dealing with plastic with requirements for certified farms to implement policies for waste reduction and recycling, and ensuring responsible storing and disposal of waste. But that’s not all we’re doing to help tackle this important issue.

Towards a new approach

Last year, ASC signed an agreement with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) pledging to develop scientific knowledge of the impact of plastic waste and aquaculture gear used in farming, and to establish best practices that can be applied in ASC’s standards.

GGGI is the world’s largest cross-sectoral alliance dedicated to finding solutions to the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise abandoned fishing gear (ALDFG, also known as ‘ghost gear’). It works globally and locally with a diverse group including industry, private sector, academia, governments and NGOs, to build evidence, define best practices, inform policy, and find solutions for issues related to ghost gear. ASC was the first aquaculture body to join the initiative.

Through their collaboration, ASC and GGGI are working on developing a refined definition for aquaculture gear, and are conducting risk assessments for each aquaculture gear type.

ASC’s proposal for tacking plastic will be based on the 5 R’s approach – reduce, re-use, recycle, recover, refuse – to help address negative impacts of aquaculture gear and plastic waste from farming.

In the future, certified producers will be required to carry out a risk assessment of potential plastic contamination and pollution, and to implement mitigation actions to minimise the impact at the farm and its surroundings. Farms will need to record all used and disposed plastic material, and should implement a plastic waste monitoring programme to ensure waste is disposed in a responsible manner, recycling when possible.

Supporting Sustainable Development Goals

ASC’s approach to plastic waste aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Under Water, which was established to address marine pollution, conserve coastal and marine areas, increase scientific knowledge, and transfer technology to improve ocean health.

Whilst ASC’s standards contribute to protecting the world’s oceans by requiring farms to improve their practices related to plastic, standards and certification schemes can’t do it alone.

World Oceans Day is your chance to take action, by helping to reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, and demand less disposable plastic in our everyday lives. You can make a difference by being aware of the threat plastic pollution poses to the environment, humans, and marine life, by supporting initiatives to reduce plastic waste, and by making a conscious choice for certified seafood when doing your grocery shopping.

By Ron Tardiff, Science and Standards Intern

In order for ASC to determine whether to revise sea lice management indicators in the Salmon Standard, it is helpful to have an understanding of the baseline requirements in each salmon producing country and then reflect on the current ASC requirements to assess if a revision is needed.

I conducted a review of each country’s legislation, regulations, guidance documents and other sources, and summarised my findings in the table below. As you can see, most countries base their sea lice threshold on the number of ‘ovigerous’ – in other words, egg-bearing – females. I’ve also included whether the country requires the use of Area Based Management (ABM) – this is a key part of the ASC Salmon Standard, and requires cooperation of the majority of farms in a wider area to monitor and mitigate risks relating to issues including parasites, pathogens and biodiversity.

*this refers to a legal or regulatory requirement for the use of area based management and not simply temporary directives issued by regulators.
1.     The Faroe Islands only allows one company to operate farms in a single fjord.
2.     The ASC Salmon Standard_v1.1 Requirement 3.1.3 requires the calculation of a maximum lice load for an ABM, which is generally calculated as the maximum allowable under national regulation multiplied by the number of fish in an ABM.
3.     This is comparable to approximately .5 ovigerous sea lice.
4.     See ASC Salmon Standard_v1.1 Appendix VII for details. The Parasitic Treatment Index serves to limit the amount of parasiticides used. Each treatment a farm makes receives a score calculated based on the therapy’s toxicity, persistence and dosage; the method of treatment; the number of times the same therapy is used; and the timing (relative to lobsters). A farm’s PTI is the sum of all it’s PTI scores.

What has become clear through the course of this review is that the science of sea lice interactions with wild salmon remains contentious (Marty et al. 2010, Jackson et al. 2011). In addition, after reviewing the available literature on sea lice, reaching out to experts, and contacting government agencies, I have thus far been unable to identify how or why regulators have chosen their sea lice thresholds. In short, it seems each country uses their own approach when it comes to establishing industry’s sea lice averages and required treatment options. The above table demonstrates that, with some exceptions, countries with wild salmon populations tend towards more stringent requirements.

Once sea lice thresholds have been exceeded, treatment of some form is required. Most countries also use “strategic treatments” at the end of the winter (before warmer spring temperatures arrive and wild salmon runs begin). There are a number of available treatment options and they can be divided into four categories:

  • Management & Prevention
  • Chemical
  • Mechanical
  • Biological control

The first category of treatment regards the overall responsible management of individual farms as well as coordination between farms in the same water body. The most important preventative measures are the use of fallowing, the stocking of single year classes in a single site, synchronised production time scales, and synchronised treatment timing. Other methods include the use of sea lice barriers, snorkel cages, and siting farms near natural sources of fresh water runoff (i.e. glacial runoff in Chile). These strategies are nearly universally applied in salmon farming countries.

Medical treatments refer to the use of drugs – primarily parasiticides, but also chemicals like hydrogen peroxide. In all salmon producing countries, these drugs (and their usage) is strictly controlled, requires veterinarian approval, and may be subject to limited time windows or treatment numbers. The rise of resistance to many common parasiticides continues to push the industry towards more inventive treatment ideas.

The main mechanical treatments include the use of warm water (thermolicer) and freshwater baths (hydrolicer). These, however, involve a lot of handling and can be stressful for fish. More recent and innovative approaches include the use of laser-shooting robots (not a joke) and ultrasonic waves.

Finally, and perhaps the single most impactful technique thus far, is the employment of millions of cleaner fish like ballan wrasse and lumpfish to eat lice off of salmon. While this method has proven very successful and significantly reduces the need for chemical therapies, there remain major concerns over cleaner fish welfare conditions and the increased pressure on wild stocks of cleaner fish, particularly ballan wrasse.

Salmon farming countries have made the prudent decision to allow farmers to choose which methodologies they employ to maintain required sea Iice levels and ASC has followed their lead. Our research suggests that strict legislation on outcomes but flexibility regarding solutions continues to drive innovation in combating sea lice.

Our goal in undertaking this review is to set a responsible, measurable, and attainable standard for sea lice in line with available science and industry best practice. The results of our legislative and regulatory analysis show that the ASC’s Salmon Standard already demands significantly more effort from farms to manage sea lice than most national requirements. However, sea lice still remain a challenge for ASC’s producers and resistance continues to develop in salmon producing regions. With all of this information now in hand, we can now ask what changes should be made to ensure ASC certified salmon producers pose a minimal sea lice infection threat to wild salmon?

This is Ron’s second blog detailing his work on sea lice. Read his first blog here.

It’s fair to say that many people around the world will have a busy weekend of travelling and seeing family coming up. Passover begins on Friday, while many countries will be enjoying a long weekend for Easter.

So you’d be forgiven for forgetting about another special event happening this Monday – Earth Day, an international day of action supporting environmental protection that takes place annually on April 22. But don’t worry, even if you had forgotten, there’s a way to enjoy your celebrations this weekend while doing your bit for Earth Day – read on to find out more.

Earth Day has its roots in the early days of environmental activism in the 1970s, and now has grown into a movement spanning every continent with events in over 190 countries.

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is ‘Protect Our Species’, while last year focussed on plastic pollution. These are both areas of importance to us at ASC, and just last year ASC staff were present at a multi-stakeholder dialogue on biodiversity at the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO), providing input and expertise from the aquaculture industry. All of our standards were written with biodiversity in mind, whether that’s ensuring that salmon farms work with their neighbours to produce Area-Based Management plans protecting biosecurity, or requiring shrimp farmers maintain that mangrove forests that are home to so many species.

ASC is leading the fight against plastic pollution from fish farming, as the first aquaculture body to join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI). Disposal of plastics are already covered by ASC standards, but will soon be subject to more specific requirements, while at the same time we are carrying out further research into the impact of plastic pollution in aquaculture which we hope will assist the whole industry.

But how can you take action to commemorate Earth Day? Well, even if your Easter or Passover plans mean you can’t attend any Earth Day events, you can make a difference with the food you serve, whether it’s salmon, shrimp or mussels: if you look for the ASC logo, you know it’s been farmed in a responsible way to minimise the impact on the environment. And we can even help if you’re stuck for ideas on what to do with your responsible fish: our new recipe pages include all manner of dishes. There’s a range of species and difficulty levels, but they all have two things in common – they’re delicious, and they won’t cost the Earth.

One of the companies that’s been celebrating Sustainable Seafood Week in Australia is Pacific Reef Fisheries. Based in the small town of Ayr, Queensland, Pacific Reef Fisheries is the first cobia and prawn farm in Australian to be ASC certified. We spoke to Kristian Mulholland, their Environmental Officer, about the benefits of certification, the future of aquaculture, and why chefs love cobia.

Kristian, 28, grew up in Rockhampton, Queensland, and working in the aquaculture industry is no accident. “Growing up in a town so close to the Great Barrier Reef really drove my passion for marine life. My first job was in a local aquarium shop my uncle owned. From then on I knew I wanted my career to involve my love for the oceans and animals that live within,” said Kristian.

So how did he go about turning that passion into a career? “After high school I moved to Townsville to study my undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and Aquaculture at James Cook University,” he explained. “Through my studies we did various field trips across North Queensland to many different aquaculture facilities. These fields trips were how I found out about Pacific Reef Fisheries. After graduation, I had my first Job as an Aquaculture Technician at Pacific Reef Fisheries and have been here ever since.”

Pacific Reef Fisheries is a 98-hectare aquaculture facility which has been operating since 1994. Every year they produce around 1000 tonnes of black tiger prawns and 100 tonnes of cobia. They became ASC certified in 2018 to demonstrate their credentials as a responsible aquaculture producer. “ASC’s global standards are considered to be of the highest quality. The advantage of ASC is that it allows our company to produce high quality products while having minimal impact on the environment and the local community,” said Kristian.

But it’s not just about the label. The process of ASC certification gave the company the opportunity to look at their practices and ensure they are doing what they can to reduce their impact. “ASC adds another tier of compliance to ensure Pacific Reef Fisheries is having minimal impact on the waters of Alva Beach,” said Kristian, adding that ASC requirements have given them more confidence that their animals will be free from disease, and they’re also working with their feed supplier to reduce impacts down the supply chain.

Then there’s the social component of ASC standards. This side of ASC certification has helped to further strengthen an already important area for the company, Kristian explained: “Pacific Reef Fisheries has always been community orientated. With ASC we have increased our engagement with the community to ensure relationships stay strong.”

ASC’s social component includes requirements ensuring the fair treatment of the workforce, but as Kristian noted, they also include so much more. “We employ 80 to 100 people every season with the majority of those people local,” he said. “Besides that, Pacific Reef Fisheries engages with the local community in a number of ways. During school visits, we inform the students about sustainability and aquaculture and how they can to care for our native aquatic animals. We have information stands at Local council events and involvement in Clean up Australia Days. We furthermore support local sporting and surf lifesaving clubs, and community functions such as Water Festivals.”

While black tiger prawns are a well known and loved seafood, some people might be less familiar with cobia – but Kristian’s passion for the fish is clear. “Pacific Reef is the only producer of the award winning North Queensland Cobia. Our fish are sold exclusively to some of the best restaurants and caterers in the country.” What’s the secret to the species’ popularity? Kristian has no doubts about the answer to that: “Chefs love cooking with Cobia due to its versatility.  The flesh can be sliced for raw preparations or cooked in steam, roasted, pan fried, wok fried or grilled.  One of its best qualities is that the flesh retains moisture when cooked, making it a succulent and rich.”

Unsurprisingly for someone so passionate about marine life and aquaculture, Kristian is optimistic about the future, both in terms of Pacific Reef Fisheries and the general industry. “We are in the process of finalizing approvals to build a 259 hectare prawn farm at Guthalungra. This will create hundreds of jobs for the local area and be capable of producing around 3000 tonnes of prawns annually,” he said.

And what about aquaculture more generally? Can it help meet the demands of the world’s growing population? “I believe the push for sustainability certification really encourages all aquaculture producers to strive for best practises at their farm. I believe that new emerging technology like our four stage bioremediation process used to filter water efficiently help to prove that aquaculture really can have minimal impact on our surrounding environment.”

It’s a positive note to end this year’s Sustainable Seafood Week on, and with passionate people like Kristian working in the industry, it’s hard to argue with.

 

 

 

ASC’s mission is to “transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility”. Having a well-defined mission is so important – but it’s not enough on its own. Because if we want to keep improving our own performance, we need to know how far we’ve come in achieving that mission. 

By Douglas Tenison-Collins

As with any organisation that intends to drive change, it can be surprisingly challenging to measure this – it involves not just measuring changes in global aquaculture, but to what extent those changes are the result of ASC activities. Fortunately at ASC we love a challenge, so we have developed a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that helps guide us in measuring our impacts and system performance. This has been developed in line with ISEAL guidelines (the impacts code) to ensure our continued full membership and to allow us to benefit from a wealth of knowledge and expertise developed through certification in other sectors.

The M&E framework serves two main purposes. First, monitoring refers to the regular collection of key indicators that help us to track the performance of the program, identifying any points that may need to be addressed with operational reviews, consultation with conformity assessment bodies (CABs) or other such targeted activities. Examples of indicators here may be things such as the volumes of certified production per country; the total farm area certified per country; the number of CABs per country and their auditing performance. Second, evaluation refers to the periodic undertaking of more in-depth analyses, through which we test the extent to which changes in the aquaculture sector can be attributed to the activities of the ASC programme. This is often undertaken in collaboration with specialist researchers and with a scope that is limited to a particular region or farming system. For example, last year we analysed the corrective actions made by salmon farms in Chile and Norway in order to address non-conformities raised during ASC audits, finding that they were making several improvements in health and safety practices and worker conditions as a result of engaging in the ASC certification process.

The M&E framework is built around our theory of change (ToC), a key part of our organisational planning, essentially setting out how our immediate activities will deliver our long term vision via a series of intended short and long term outcomes. Of course our unintended effects are also considered as part of this.

ASC faces many of the same problems faced by other certification schemes and organisations more widely, whereby rapid technological developments pose both an opportunity and a challenge. As a result, we’re working hard to ensure our certification processes can keep up with these changes, therefore allowing the improved collection of key data for M&E purposes as the programme continues to grow. And it’s not just about collecting new data – we have a wealth of historic data on the programme and we want to unlock the full potential of this with new approaches to cleaning, storing and analysing it – a bit like restoring old film footage using modern techniques to see things that might not have been visible before Finally, we are strengthening links with research institutions to help facilitate the in-depth evaluations necessary to develop a greater understanding of ASC’s impacts. And we hope that our M&E results will be helpful to other stakeholders in the industry. One of the benefits of the ASC programme is its transparency, allowing aquaculture performance to be measured at a country, species or region level on a scale that wouldn’t have been possible before. We’re taking a similarly transparent approach to M&E, ensuring that we share our findings through organisations such as ISEAL and the Certification and Ratings Collaboration (https://certificationandratings.org/).

That’s just a few of the ways we’re measuring our performance against the ASC mission. It’s a mission that we all believe in, which makes it all the more important that we know how well we’re achieving it. Monitoring and evaluating might not sound as exciting as a mission but in reality the two go hand-in-hand, and are both vital for an organisation dedicated to constant improvement.

Four years ago, Vietnamese-born Vân Roetert joined the ASC, and in May last year she set up our programme assurance team to ensure that integrity was at the forefront of ASC’s agenda. We caught up with her to find out more about the work of her department.

By Nicki Holmyard

“Sustainability certification is a complex business requiring a multi-faceted approach to ensure the programme is meaningful, effective and robust, and this is at the core of what we do,” said Vân.

“The public just sees a label, perhaps without understanding the complexity of what happens behind the scenes. And what aquaculture businesses see from the outside is nothing compared to the huge machine that runs behind the ASC. My team is an important part of that.”

Is there such a thing as a typical day in her life?

“It’s hard to describe a typical day,” she laughed. “Every day is busy, and I give 110% to my job to ensure I keep on top of everything. I love my work because it satisfies the curiosity and passion I have for the industry. Every issue is so different and there is rarely a ready-made solution for anything. This mean that a lot of research is involved, often in collaboration with the Standards and Science teams, to ensure we come up with appropriate answers.”

Vân heads up a team of people based across the globe; including in Vietnam, the US, Australia, and the main office in the Netherlands, where she is based.

“We spend large amounts of time interacting with different people, dealing with enquiries and queries from farms themselves, from accredited certification bodies and their auditors, and from different stakeholders regarding the programme. ASC is global, so on any day we might be speaking to someone in Norway, Canada, Chile, Australia ….” said Vân

For example, a farmer or company might have a query about a particular aspect of ASC certification requirements to get their farm certified, or need help understanding how to comply with the rules of the scheme. She confessed that the language of the ASC documents pertaining to standards and certification requirements is very technical, and necessarily so, and that doesn’t always make it easy to interpret or understand. A degree of ambiguity can also be detected in those documents. Such issues are generally ironed out as the standards undergo regular updates, following stakeholder consultation, but in the meantime it keeps Vân and her team busy.

“That is why we are here – to ensure the language and issues are understood and interpreted in the correct way!” she said.

“One of the trickier things we do is explaining how to apply our standard and certification requirements in a special context, and this can take some considerable research and discussion. The ASC programme and its certification standards are designed for global application, but that can create difficulties, as no two conditions are the same in different countries. This means that we often need to look at how a standard can be applied in the context of a particular country or region.”

Vân starts her week with a planned group communication meeting, which helps to set out work priorities and responsibilities, update everyone on the current status of projects, and ensure that all bases are covered.

“I also speak daily with different members of the team about various topics. Quite often a team approach is needed to bring some common sense to an issue, and it’s great to know that I have such good backup. In fact, working with my dedicated, passionate team is the best part of my job,” she said.

Recent issues which have taken a lot of time and resources include investigations related to product integrity, which mainly originate in Asia, particularly Vietnam. This means that Vân and her team need to ensure that a product is what it says it is on the label – and this is not always found to be the case – that antibiotics are not being used in the production process, and that raw materials are not substituted during processing.

“We might receive a report from supply chain partners, or find the product ourselves, then we have to initiate a full investigation, follow all the leads and undertake the detective work. There will always be people who think they can cheat the system, generally for financial reasons, but we are getting better and better at spotting it and stopping them, and this is a very rewarding part of my work,” said Vân.

“The workload of my department has certainly grown since it was set up. When ASC started, the focus was on establishing the programme and publicising its availability to partners and stakeholders.  The next phase was to expand that focus slightly towards maintaining confidence that the ASC Standards are effectively implemented and audited,” she said.

This work includes continuously improving ASC certification and accreditation methodologies to add more value to stakeholders, training auditors to ensure they understand ASC requirements, monitoring the performance of auditors and their certification bodies in conjunction with the accreditation body, working with MSC on Chain of Custody issues, and developing tools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme.

“My team has developed a multisite certification methodology that will help companies with multiple sites to have everything linked under one certificate, instead of needing a certificate, and therefore an audit, for each site. We are also soon to launch the group certification tool, which will help farmer organisations and cooperatives to arrange their internal management systems to ensure that individual producers are compliant,” said Vân.

Another important and interesting area of work is the development of a standardised social auditing methodology for ASC, that will enable auditors to conduct the social part of an audit effectively and consistently.

Other tools under development include one to monitor suppliers’ performance in terms of product contaminated with antibiotics, and another to help consumers trace a product back to source and confirm its provenance.

Before joining ASC, Vân worked in a similar position for a coffee scheme, and whilst her former experience gave her useful insight into the workings of certification schemes, she admits that she is still learning about aquaculture and the wider seafood industry.

“It is a fascinating sector, so diverse and full of extraordinary characters, but it also incredibly complex,” she said.

One aspect of the job that frustrates Vân is dealing with an over expectation of what ASC can deliver, which is a view sometimes held within industry and the wider stakeholder group.

“Certification schemes are used as part of a risk mitigation tool, but sometimes companies  think that achieving the standard is the ultimate goal and the work stops there. However, it doesn’t mean that they can ease up on due diligence in their sourcing policy for example, nor ignore ethical issues or social compliance.  Having certification does not solve such issues, and so we work with the ASC communications, standards and commercial teams to help change perceptions and educate stakeholders to ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet!” said Vân.

Dutch born Janneke Aelen is one of our latest recruits and started working with ASC in October 2018 as a standards coordinator in the Standards and Science team.

By Nicki Holmyard

“I was hired to work on fish welfare issues, and feel extremely lucky to have landed this job, which makes best use of my background and studies in animal science,” said Janneke.

Janneke’s initial focus is to prepare fish welfare standards for the marine and finfish species covered by ASC. These currently include freshwater trout, pangasius, salmon, seabass, seabream, meagre, seriola, cobia and tilapia. 

Health and welfare indicators already exist within the Standards, but the issue has never been covered explicitly. Janneke’s work will ensure that fish welfare becomes a defined part of the Standards. 

Before moving to ASC, Janneke worked on R&D in animal health and welfare, and her degree thesis looked at the welfare of the European eel grown in recirculation systems. 

“I was really happy when I saw the vacancy with ASC, because fish welfare jobs do not come along very often. My passion for the subject must have come through, because I got the job, which I am very happy about!” she said.

The Science and Standards team doubled in number in 2018 and currently stands at 8 people, who are mostly based in the Netherlands. Such a small team  unusual for a global organisation with staff members spread all over the world!

Janneke works in the ASC’s only physical office, which is situated in Utrecht. 

“I like the interaction of being in an office, which is very different to remote working. It enables me to keep up with current issues and with what everyone is doing,” she said.

In particular, Janneke enjoys working within a dynamic team, and with people from different cultures, backgrounds, education and experience. Her team is responsible for the on-going management and development of the portfolio of ASC Standards, the management of the ASC’s Monitoring and Evaluation Programme, and the translation of key standard content into tools that can support farmers making improvements under the Farm Improvement Programme. 

The Standards and Science Team currently consists of five standards coordinators, who each focus on a number of key projects. These range from new standard development, to coordinating reviews and revisions of existing standard content. 

“I am currently in the preparation phase of my work, so my first task is to write a position paper that looks at all the research that is already out there. The aim is for this research to form the basis of expert group discussions, that will work out how it could be turned into practical indicators for incorporation into our Standards,” said Janneke. 

“We are starting with an open book, and I am not sure what the end result will look like or how it will be implemented. However, incorporating health and welfare standards into our certification programme is a very exciting prospect and is one that has the opportunity to make a big difference to consumer perceptions of aquaculture products.”

Janneke explained that there is a disparity between what science understands the biggest animal welfare issues to be, and what consumers think.

“The challenge for ASC is to come up with operational and animal-based welfare indicators. Although stocking density is of high concern to consumers, largely due to misinformation from pressure groups, it is a very complex issue that comprises multiple interacting factors. Also, stocking densities that are too low can be a significant welfare risk for certain species, which is really difficult to communicate to people. My focus will be on producing indicators aimed at events during the production cycle, where risk of impaired welfare is at its highest, for example during events where fish handling occurs” she said.

Janneke explained that salmon is the first species to be worked on, as it is already well researched.

“By starting with a fish for which a lot of literature already exists, we can start to develop the background for all the other species,” she said.

As well as her direct animal welfare work, Janneke works closely with the rest of the team to support projects, including one looking at antibiotic use, and another on reducing the use of plastics in aquaculture.

The initial phase of her own research is a desk study, but Janneke believes that there may be possibilities to commission some collaborative research if gaps are identified in the practical knowledge base. 

“Although I haven’t been with ASC for long, I am finding the job both challenging and exciting, and I like being able to apply my scientific knowledge to help make a difference to fish health and welfare,” she said. 

Today is the kick-off of the Think Fish Week in France. A campaign week in which we want to make French consumers aware that they have the choice to buy sustainable and responsible seafood, by choosing fish with an ASC or MSC label.

This way you contribute to a healthy future of our oceans, lakes and rivers and you support those fishermen and fish farmers who work responsibly. But what does responsible fish farming actually mean? What changes when an aquaculture farm decides to operate according to the ASC standards? We asked Catarina Martins, group manager environment and sustainability at salmon producer Mowi (formerly known as Marine Harvest Group).

Climate-friendly proteins
“Fish farming is a particularly efficient way to provide the ever-growing world population with good proteins” Catarina Martins starts to tell enthusiastically. Because”, the driven sustainability manager continues, “fish, including salmon, requires much less feed than farmed livestock such as cattle and pigs”. Fish are cold-blooded. They therefore require much less energy to maintain their body temperature. In addition, the edible yield  of a salmon is higher than that of cattle. “That is why fish farming is one of the most climate-friendly ways to produce food,” according to Catarina.

The strictest requirements for fish farming
At present, 90 percent of all wild fish stocks are already fished to their maximum capacity or even overfished. In order to have sufficient protein-rich food for current and future generations, aquaculture needs to grow. “However, this should be done in a responsible manner, to avoid the risk of damaging the environment. At Mowi we have therefore decided that we want to work with the strictest requirements for responsible aquaculture. These are the ASC standards, which were initiated and are endorsed by . WWF. And that is what makes ASC certification so special “.

Aim high
Mowi, the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, is working towards the certification of all its aquaculture farms. “By setting a good example, we are raising the sustainability bar for the entire salmon industry”, says the ambitious sustainability manager. By working according to the ASC criteria, the impact of the farms on water and the environment is limited. Moreover, salmon is produced in a socially responsible manner. An independent certification body checks on the spot whether the requirements are indeed met. “The sense of pride to work at an ASC certified farm is huge”, says Catarina. “The workers know that their farm meets the most stringent environmental and social standards for farmed salmon”.

Exact feeding, ‘cleaner fish’ and sturdy nets
What has actually changed since Mowi decided to achieve ASC certification? “We are developing fish feed with alternatives to wild-caught fish. This way we reduce the pressure on wild fish stocks. Currently the feed consists of only 25 percent fishmeal and fish oil. That means that for one kilo of salmon, only 700 grams of wild-caught fish is needed”. Mowi practices precision feeding. “The fish receive exactly the amount they need, no more and no less. That way the seabed under the farm stays healthy” explains Catarina. Treatments with chemicals and medicines are only allowed to a very limited extent. Antibiotics are not allowed to be used preventively. “To control parasites, such as sea lice, we use ‘cleaner fish’ – a type of fish which feed on sea lice –  and lasers. The farmers also take measures to prevent the fish from escaping. “We use extra strong nets that are checked regularly by divers”.

Employees
Not only the environment, but also social responsibility is of paramount importance. All ASC farms are required to offer a safe working environment, where employees earn a decent salary within normal working hours. “At Mowi, we have regular meetings in which we train our employees in both the importance of ASC certification and the implementation of the standards. Safety is an important topic in these meetings. We also discuss and measure the satisfaction, commitment and insights of our employees,” says the Mowi spokeswoman.

Local community
The local community around the aquaculture farms is also involved. “We want to understand possible concerns local residents may have and, where possible, solve them jointly. We often work in remote, rural areas. Our presence there offers employment, good infrastructure and helps to maintain important local facilities such as schools and sports facilities. Many initiatives are supported by Mowi, such as sports and social events as well as sponsoring. In this way we support both our employees and the local communities”.

Choose responsibly
When choosing for an ASC certified salmon product, you really make a difference. You can be confident that it was produced with care for the fish, the planet and the people. “The label makes it easier for the consumer to opt for responsible products when shopping for food,” says Catarina. “If you are looking for tasty, healthy and responsibly farmed fish, choose salmon with the ASC logo”, she concludes.

In September 2018 I joined the ASC Programme Assurance (PA) team as an intern, and now that I’m acquainted with the many activities of ASC’s newest team I thought I’d give you all a taste of what we’re up to. 

  By Olaf Kattenpoel Oude Heerink

 

The PA team is charged with a wide variety of tasks within ASC. While the Standards & Science team develops our species standards, the PA team makes sure these standards are effectively implemented and audited. The PA team is therefore in close contact with the Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) and their auditors. To assure the quality of the audits, the PA team is developing and improving various tools and methods for the audit process. For example, members of the team are creating and revising audit report templates and other forms that are used by auditors to report their findings to ASC.  As part of this work, we also do Quality Assurance checks to test the completeness and content of the reports.
 
The requirements and rules that auditors, CABs and farms have to meet and follow are recorded in the Certification and Accreditation Requirements (CAR). The CAR assures CABs operate in a consistent and controlled manner, and provides documentation to assure long-term continuity and consistency of the delivery of ASC certification. To make sure that auditors fully understand the CAR, the PA team arranges training sessions– and these are in addition to the mandatory training that auditors must undergo for the specific standard that they want to audit. This training is intended to ensure that all auditors are able to recognise responsible aquaculture practices on farms and implement ASC standards to the high requirements of the programme. Before they can carry out audits, they must demonstrate their knowledge by participating in a mandatory exam. The PA team is revising and improving this training and the CAR continuously, to assure the quality and keep up with the changes within the aquaculture industry.

At ASC we take the integrity of our label and ASC certified products very seriously, and the PA team plays an important role in protecting this integrity by working closely together with the MSC in the ASC Chain of Custody certification programme. The Chain of Custody covers every step a product takes to get from farm to the retailer, and knowing this is vital to ensure that ASC labelled products only contain responsibly sourced seafood. Members of the PA team are working here on investigation cases to prevent or stop, for example, the mislabelling of products. Connected to this is the PA team’s Product Provenance Project. This project also aims to strengthen the product integrity, by assuring the flow of product origin information throughout the entire supply chain.  

Transparency is a fundamental principle for us at ASC, which is why all audit reports and certificates are published on our website. We coordinate this in the PA team, by assuring that the auditors deliver all the correct reports within the given deadlines, so they can be published on our website. All these reports contain a huge amount of data from all the ASC certified farms, which is also managed by the PA team. Not only are these reports and data important in providing confidence in the programme, they can be used by researchers and others in the industry to help drive improvements.

That’s not an exhaustive list of all of our activities but hopefully it gives you an idea of the scale of what we’re up to. It goes without saying that we couldn’t do all of this without closely working with our colleagues in all of the other teams across ASC. While we have different areas of responsibility and expertise, We all share the same goal – to transform aquaculture towards environmental sustainability and social responsibility!

Aquaculture is sometimes referred to as a young industry – and while it’s true that as an industry it has really started to expand in the last three decades, the practice of farming fish has been around a lot longer than you might think – possibly even eight thousand years.

Written by Jack Cutforth

If you don’t believe that, well that’s understandable – I was surprised too, and to be fair it’s not possible to know for certain what was going on 8,000 years ago. If only there had been a transparent certification scheme back then to record the activities of these early fish farmers, but regrettably this pre-dates written language – which would have made producing standards and audit reports challenging, to say the least.

But more on that later. The reason I found this out is because I learned about a more recent and verifiable – but still ancient – example of aquaculture. The Alekoko Fishpond in Hawaii was built at least 1,000 years ago and incredibly is still standing today. Large stones were used to create a 900 feet long dam to trap fish and feed local royalty. 

It was surprising to see such an old fish farm, but would I have been as surprised to see similarly old remains of a cattle farm, or a fishing boat? It made me wonder how many other people knew just how long humans have been farming fish. 

Back to the fish farming that is – potentially – eight thousand years old. The remains were found near Melbourne in Australia, and they suggest evidence that the Aboriginal community that crafted them, the Gunditjmara, was settled rather than following the nomadic lifestyle often associated with Aboriginal culture. The remains of excavated channels were found that were used to maintain access to baby eels that migrated from the sea. Some of the traps correspond to water levels about 8,000 years ago, and their incredible age was further confirmed by radiocarbon dating of charcoal fragments that are at least 6,600 years old. 

At some point about 4,000 years ago it seems that carp were being farmed in China (if you’re looking for very early evidence of pretty much anything, China is usually a good place to start). As you’d expect, farming developed gradually, with these early aquaculturists taking advantage of the fact that some carp would become caught in lakes when river floodwaters subsided. Spotting an opportunity, they fed the carp and bred them, providing themselves with a reliable source of healthy protein. Incidentally, if you’ve got a pet goldfish at home, he or she has a long and illustrious pedigree – today’s goldfish are descended from these early farmed carp, selectively bred for their colour. In fact, they were so highly valued that during the Song Dynasty only the royal family were permitted to keep yellow goldfish. So you might have a bit of royalty swimming around in your fish tank.

Other evidence suggests that those other well-known ancient trendsetters the Egyptians were also trading farmed fish such as bream about 3,500 years ago. And after that the Romans got in on the act, adding a touch of luxury (would you expect anything else from the Ancient Romans?) with farmed oysters in coastal lagoons. 

Like agriculture, it seems that aquaculture sprang up independently in many different parts of the world. We’ve already looked at the ancient farm in Hawaii, which is a pond created by damming a river using large stones, and which provided fish for Hawaiian royalty of the time. Seaweed is the latest ASC standard (created jointly with MSC) but the farming of this extremely versatile crop has a long history in Korea and Japan – the earliest methods used bamboo poles for spores to anchor themselves to. 

It’s simply not possible to give a thorough history of fish farming in one blog post, but I hope I’ve at least highlighted that aquaculture practices have been around for a lot longer than you might think. But was I right to be surprised about this? Is it fair to refer to aquaculture as a young industry? Maybe the answer to those questions is an unsatisfactory “yes and no”. While fish farming has been going on for a long time, it is undeniably true that it wasn’t until the 20th Century, and particularly the last few decades, that it grew into the vital global industry that it is today. Part of the reason for this rapid and recent growth is an acknowledgment that we can’t meet the world’s rising demand for protein with only traditional agriculture and fisheries. And while it is interesting to look back (well, it is for me and hopefully it has been for you too), what really matters is looking forward, to how we can meet this demand while minimising the environmental and social impacts. 

So farmed seafood may be more traditional than you might think – and if you look for the ASC logo it can also help secure a responsible aquaculture industry for the future as well.  

What is the first information you expect to see in an ASC farm audit report? You will probably want to know what the farm produces and where the farm is located. Without this basic information, I think any report is frankly useless.

  By Dennis Wittmann, Assurance coordinator 

 

The ASC standards focus on both the environmental and social impact of farming, and farms must show that they actively minimise their impact on the surrounding natural environment. This extends to careful management of fish health and natural resources. Farms also must be a good and conscientious neighbour; that means operating in a socially responsible manner, caring for their employees, engaging and working with the local community and indigenous people for those farms located in areas of importance to them.

You may have noticed that all of the above require accurate location information. It might seem an obvious point to make – of course information about how farms are situated in, and interact with, their location is needed to properly measure a farm’s impact on its local environment. At first glance it might also seem like an easy enough piece of information to provide – after all, the auditor is there, at the location to carry out the audit. But how easy is it to then accurately record this information onto a map? How does an auditor in a remote part of, say, the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, or at a farm in the sea off the coast of Scotland, accurately record where that farm is? It’s not like they’re in the middle of New York and can simply open Google Maps or check a street sign!   

A key word analysis of eight of our ASC standard manuals reveals that the word ‘map’ appears 81 times and the word ‘GPS’ appears 12 times. Clearly there is a lot of importance in accurately logging the geographic area of farm activities and impacts. 

So how to auditors find out this information? Well, as part of an ASC audit, they should be able to use Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, that can verify GPS coordinates and review of maps. And a knowledge about GIS is one of the prerequisites for the third-party auditors carrying out audits against ASC standards. GIS can support the verification of requirements and can make auditing easier and more effective. But it’s not all simple – the sheer variety of GIS tools can make it hard for auditors to choose the right one for their requirements.

ASC, the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)  recently took part in a project led by Accreditation Services International (ASI) to provide auditors more insights on GIS. All of these organisations are members of the ISEAL Alliance – the global membership association for credible sustainable standards – and ISEAL’s Innovations Fund supported the project. 

The outcome of the project is a self-starter kit which should make it easy for auditors to pick up GIS. The self-starter kit explains what GIS is, introduces some commonly used GIS software and applications and describes how to use them. It gives practical advice for using GIS in the field and points to publicly available spatial data sources. The kit is based on a series of field tests ASI conducted with auditors around the world, so it is tailored to their needs. 

Although ASC is a third-party certification scheme, meaning auditors are completely independent from the organisation and ASC receives no money from the audit process, we work hard to ensure the standards are applied in a consistent and robust way, and this project will play an important part in that work. Transparency is at the heart of our programme, and a  key strengths is the data ASC publically provides about certified farms. We are therefore committed to doing all we can to make sure we’re meeting our goals to provide meaningful information—and it all starts with knowing where these farms are! 

The self-starter kit is publicly available on the ASI website, and you can watch a video about the application of GIS in audits on ASI’s YouTube channel.

Published on
Friday, 04 January 2019
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