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.