Ten years ago on this very day, the first fish farm in the world earned ASC certification – Regal Springs’ Lake Toba tilapia farm in Sumatra, Indonesia.
In the decade since, more than 1,700 aquaculture farms around the world have met the ASC standard to become ASC certified. That currently represents nearly 2.5 million tonnes of seafood and seaweed harvested per year – and a vital, ongoing transformation toward environmental and social responsibility for the aquaculture industry.
To this day, Regal Springs’ Lake Toba tilapia farm is still ASC certified, along with more of their tilapia farm sites in Honduras and Mexico.
“At Regal Springs we are very proud to have been a pioneer here,” said Petra Weigl, Regal Springs’ Managing Director for Europe. “And we naturally extended the certification we started in Indonesia to Honduras and Mexico.”
“ASC certification brings us a host of benefits — well-organised data, which we share transparently through ASC audits and reporting; improved traceability, from feed to harvest, with the coming ASC Feed Standard that will drive even more improvements in feed sourcing at our farms; and continued improvements in social responsibility internally and with external parties,” Rudolf Hoeffelman, Managing Director Regal Springs Indonesia, added. “Overall, ASC certification helps us communicate our sustainability and best practices to our stakeholders and customers in an organised and clear way.”
The tilapia farm’s certification came two years after ASC’s initial founding. At the time, only two types of farms could be ASC certified – tilapia and pangasius. As of 2022, there are now ASC standards for 11 species groups, meaning that farms harvesting these species can aim for ASC certification. These species groups include abalone; bivalves (clams, mussels, oyster, scallop); flatfish; freshwater trout; pangasius; salmon; seabass, seabream and meagre; seriola and cobia; shrimp; tilapia; and tropical marine finfish. There is also a joint ASC-MSC standard for all kinds of seaweed.
Chris Ninnes, CEO ASC, said: “Every journey begins with a single step. Today, August 15, was an important milestone in our journey of transforming the aquaculture industry. When the first farm in Indonesia was certified back in 2012, it sent out a ripple of effect to all stakeholders from farmer-producers to markets around the world. We are happy to see this shift towards responsible aquaculture and this strengthens our commitment to scale up our impact massively over the next 10 years.”
Caretakers of the ecosystem
As Regal Springs’ tilapia farms sit in Lake Toba,the world’s largest volcanic lake, ensuring a clean and healthy ecosystem is vital in their fish production. The lake covers more than 1,100 square kilometres of area and plunges to depths of nearly 500 meters. Deep, clean water is key to healthy local communities, healthy biodiversity and healthy tilapia, and Regal Springs pay careful attention to protecting the gorgeous freshwater ecosystem of Lake Toba.
“We use floating cages that have very little impact on the natural lake environment,” said Weigl. “And we continuously monitor the water quality to ensure it remains oxygen-rich and undisturbed by the farm’s activities. Among other factors that high water quality directly influences the quality of Regal Springs tilapia, making it strong and healthy, and ensuring that we can totally forgo the use of additives.”
Regal Springs adheres to a zero waste or ‘whole fish’ policy. Only about one-third of a whole tilapia is used for the fillets or loin cuts generally found at the grocery store. The remainder of the fish – skin, scales, bones, liver and more – is put to use in other industries. Lake Toba tilapia contribute to dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers and even fashion (in the form of tilapia skin leather). Regal Springs also repurposes its tilapia fish oil into biofuel that powers some of their trucks and other equipment.
Hand in hand with local villages
One of the largest employers in the Lake Toba region, Regal Springs employs more than 500 people there. ASC certification requires they meet not only robust environmental criteria but a strong social responsibility standard, which covers fair wages and working hours, health and safety requirements, forming of worker unions, collaboration with local communities, and more.
Regal Springs’ social welfare commitments include providing a health insurance plan and hot meals for workers, as well as company health clinics and free healthcare for employees, their families and nearby villages.
They also employ teachers, provide literacy and English-language education, and lead reforestation efforts, among other community engagement projects.
Tasty, healthy tilapia
Tilapia is a fish with many health benefits as well as environmental credentials. High in protein while low in calories, tilapia is a good source of omega fatty acids, containing more omega-3’s per serving than beef, chicken, pork and other land-based meats. It provides a rich supply of nutrients – vitamins B12, C and E, along with calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, selenium, niacin, folate and more.
Tilapia also happens to be a low-mercury fish that is versatile and easy to cook, with a mild taste that doesn’t overwhelm sensitive palettes.
This week, in honor of responsibly farmed fish, why not take a look for ASC labelled tilapia in your grocery’s aisle, and see if it comes from a Regal Springs farm?
And if you’re not sure how to prepare it, we’ve cooked up a great idea for you – baked tilapia with Greek salsa and yoghurt sauce.