The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF USA) paved the way for the ASC by initiating and coordinating the Aquaculture Dialogues. Aquaculture Dialogues were a multi-stakeholder roundtable formally started in 2004 with the goal to:
- Develop verifiable environmental and social performance levels that measurably reduce or eliminate the key impacts of salmon farming and are acceptable to stakeholders
- Recommend standards that achieve these performance levels while permitting the salmon farming industry to remain economically viable
Universal, open and transparent, the Aquaculture Dialogues focused on minimising the key environmental and social impacts of aquaculture. Each Dialogue produced standards for one or a range of major aquaculture species groups that are science-based, performance-based and metrics-based and globally applicable to aquaculture production systems, covering many types, locations and scales of operations.
The dialogues took place over more than a decade. The process was transparent and inclusive, conducted in scores of cities around the world to ensure a multi-cultural, mutli-stakeholder process. The dialogues, and the resulting standards, reflect the direct input of more than 2,000 NGOs, scientists, farmers, retailers and other important stakeholders within the aquaculture industry.
The aquaculture dialogues resulted in standards for 12 species: salmon, shrimp, tilapia, pangasius, trout, abalone, bivalves (oysters, mussels, clams and scallops) and seriola and cobia. The initial species were selected based on their degree of impact on the environment and society, their market value, and the extent to which they are traded internationally.
The Netherlands based Sustainable Trade Initiative IDH joined forces with WWF Netherlands to create the Aquaculture Stewardship Council in 2010. The ASC was established as a fully independent, not for profit oorganisation to both manage the standards developed for each species and to create future standards based on need and market demand.
Since its founding, the ASC has set up its own system to develop, operationalise, manage, review and revise standards based on the original Aquaculture Dialogues. To do this in a credible manner, all ASC standards are created according to the ISEAL Alliance Code of Good Practices for Setting Social and Environmental Standards. This code of good practice complies with the ISO/IEC Guide 59 Code of good practice for standardization, and the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement Annex 3 Code of good practice for the preparation, adoption and application of standards.
Membership in the ISEAL Alliance is available to any multi-stakeholder sustainability standard and accreditation bodies that demonstrate their ability to meet the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice and accompanying requirements, and commit to learning and improving. Through membership in ISEAL, standards systems show a commitment to supporting a unified movement of sustainability standards. ASC joined ISEAL as an associate member in January 2013 became a full member in April 2015. The ASC is the only aquaculture scheme to be accepted as a full member of ISEAL.
In 2012, Regal Springs tilapia farm in Indonesia became the very first ASC certified farm.