ASC has been found to be the industry leader in an independent report from NGO SeaChoice looking at the transparency and accountability of the major aquaculture certification programmes.
ASC welcomes the opportunity for scrutiny but is calling for future benchmarks to go further and look at the wider impacts of each scheme. And while acknowledging there is always room for improvement – and with many such improvements already underway – ASC has welcomed the recognition of its unmatched approach and in particular to community and stakeholder engagement.
SeaChoice assessed the three leading certification schemes in farmed seafood and reported that ‘ASC was found to be the most inclusive and transparent eco-certification’. The report also provided the fewest recommendations for improvement to ASC.
Consultation, transparency, and collaboration are at the heart of the ASC programme. This has been the case since the organisation was initially founded with the completion of the Aquaculture Dialogues, which brought together a diverse group of experts from industry, science, retail, and NGOs, to develop the ASC’s original standards for responsible farming. Since then all standards and the regular standard reviews for the ASC have included proactive and meaningful public consultation.
Transparency and accountability are also intrinsic to the farm certification process. The SeaChoice report notes that stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on all audits, and can even ask to be notified automatically of any changes or audits relevant to them. The independent auditors must consider and respond to this input before making a decision on certification, and it can be easily found on ASC’s website, along with full audit reports and other salient information, for every certified farm on the Find a Farm page.
The SeaChoice report highlighting the comparative additional benefits of ASC also echoes some of the findings of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) which recognises that ASC is aligned with more ‘Supplementary Components’ in terms of governance, standard-setting procedures, transparency and many other areas; and that ASC provides data to substantiate claims.
‘The results of this report are a clear vindication of our longstanding commitment to meaningful engagement with not only farms and retailers but also local communities, researchers, charities and NGOs,’ said Chris Ninnes, ASC CEO.
‘This same approach means we always welcome new feedback on the programme and will look closely at the recommendations in this report. I’m pleased to say that there is work underway to continue to improve our engagement – for example with the development of a new conflict of interest procedure for our board, and further improvements to our third-party dispute management procedures.
‘We always appreciate the input of organisations like SeaChoice, and of course we hope they welcome the same from us. We think future reports of this nature could be even more useful to consumers by going a step further and assessing which elements of transparency and accessibility are more important, and by looking at the wider impacts of each scheme. As ever we will be happy to engage with SeaChoice’s work.’
ASC will be providing some of this additional information with an upcoming Benchmarking project which will provide an impartial and data-based comparison of the impacts of ASC and other certification schemes.
The SeaChoice report assessed five areas – standard development, governance, verification of farms, monitoring of impacts, and dispute settlement. Other aspects of ASC’s programme that were highlighted include the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) programme, launched in 2017, which aims to use the large quantities of data generated by certified farms to assess ASC’s impact and identify patterns and areas for improvement. The first M&E report was published last year.
ASC has responded to its specific recommendations, which will be published on the SeaChoice website, and has also provided some constructive feedback on future reports of this nature.