Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has today responded to a report about animal welfare standards in the aquaculture industry.

The ASC standards include a number of requirements for animal welfare. By choosing seafood with the ASC logo, consumers reward environmentally and socially responsible farmers who are required to treat their animals, as well as their staff and their neighbours and the surrounding ecosystem, with respect. Our standards, which were developed with public consultation, are fully transparent and can be viewed in full on the ASC website, along with every single audit report from every ASC certified farm around the world.

The ASC standards include over a hundred environmental and social requirements, including many which cover fish welfare, such as: requirements for fish health management plans that are reviewed regularly; regular visits from qualified veterinarians; strict requirements to regularly monitor and maintain water quality; prohibition on the preventative use of antibiotics, meaning farms must keep fish naturally healthy; and thorough investigations of any unexplained or unexpected mortalities.

Additional requirements in development

On top of the welfare requirements already in our standards, ASC is in the middle of a review of its welfare requirements in which a number of experts, researchers and welfare NGOs have been asked to research and develop additional requirements for all farms to cover fish welfare in even more detail. Research on fish welfare has rapidly expanded over the past few years, before which there was a much more limited understanding of this issue. This makes it the ideal time to be joining this research and developing science-based requirements for all ASC farms.

Compassion in World Farming has noted ASC’s excellent track record on sustainability and we have been working closely with them and other animal welfare groups over the past few years.

Stocking densities

There have been claims of certified farms stocking fish at densities which are harmful to welfare, but these have not been substantiated by any evidence from farms themselves, and are based on a partial reading of the thorough ASC standards.

While stocking density is considered a factor affecting welfare, scientific research acknowledges that ‘there is no single measure of welfare’ and on its own stocking density can be a misleading and unreliable indicator of fish welfare. There is still debate over ideal stocking densities, which vary greatly between species, and densities that are too low can also be harmful to some species.

Other factors, particularly water quality, give a far more accurate picture of fish welfare. ASC standards take a more holistic approach and include requirements covering the wider potential problems that are linked to welfare, including water and seabed quality, dissolved oxygen levels, minimum growth rates, and disease. These requirements cannot be met by farms if stocking densities are too high.

However, as the scientific literature in this area continues to grow, stocking densities will be one of the many issues that ASC’s Fish Welfare Group will be looking at.

Find out more about how we protect fish welfare on our Aquaculture Insights pages.

Published on
Monday, 13 July 2020
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