ASC standards are the result of an extremely thorough development process, but our programme isn’t static and we are always looking for opportunities to adapt to changes in the industry. This is where operational reviews come in. 

By Marcelo Hidalgo and Haruko Horii

Operational reviews are one of ASC’s many tools to ensure ongoing improvements, and others include our Monitoring & Evaluating work and the work of our Programme Assurance Team. ASC standards must be reviewed at least once every five years to ensure their continued effectiveness. While reviews must take place within this timeframe, there is not a rigid schedule, as it may be beneficial to review some standards sooner, depending on developments in the industry. There are a number of factors which could justify an early review, including (but not limited to): new scientific developments; changes to operational practices; changes in legislation. The decision of which standards should be reviewed and when is taken by the ASC’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG), made up of industry experts and a diverse range of stakeholders.

There’s another important reason to ensure ongoing operational reviews – it is one of the criteria required for ISEAL membership. ISEAL is a global alliance of sustainability standards with exacting requirements for membership. Other members include Fairtrade and the Forest Stewardship Council, and ASC is the only aquaculture body with full membership.

The purpose of the ISEAL Alliance is to be a place where members can learn best practices to deliver real and lasting change from each other. According to ISEAL, credible sustainable standards are based on a set of criteria, called “Credibility Principle”.  These criteria are:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Improvement
  3. Relevance
  4. Rigour
  5. Engagement
  6. Impartiality
  7. Transparency
  8. Accessibility
  9. Truthfulness
  10. Efficiency

ISEAL also defines good practice for sustainability standards through guidance and credibility tools such as the Codes of Good Practice. There are three types of ISEAL Codes, namely ‘Impact Code’, ‘Assurance Code’ and ‘Standard-setting Code’, and to maintain full membership an organization must demonstrate every year their compliance with all three of these codes. The ‘Standard-setting code’ includes requirements that standards are regularly reviewed. 

ASC’s Science and Standards team are in charge of carrying out operational reviews, and are currently kept very busy with reviews of several ASC standards, including shrimp, tilapia, salmon and trout. The TAG is also involved in the reviews – they must approve all proposed changes at every stage, and final sign off comes from ASC’s Supervisory Board – made up of representatives from areas including academia, industry and NGOs. In keeping with our commitment to transparency, all drafts considered during the review process are also published on the ASC website, and are subject to public consultation – just as new standards are. The TAG meet twice a year, which is when they review the process and progress. Their next meeting is in December so the Science and Standards team are even busier than usual with preparations!

So how does it all work in practice? Let’s use the shrimp standard review as an example. It all starts by agreeing the Terms of Reference (ToR) which will, among other things, determine the objective of reviewing the standard, include a risk analysis, stakeholder mapping, and set out exactly what will be addressed by the review. A review will not necessarily look at the entire standard, and a more focused approach reflects the fact that different parts of a standard will vary in their impact and effectiveness. Antibiotic requirements, broodstock, farm management and requirements about mangroves will be addressed in the shrimp review. 

Once the ToR for the shrimp review has been drafted, it is posted to our website for public consultation. This lasts for 60 days to give the public and our stakeholders plenty of time to respond, and for the shrimp standard this period will end on 9 December. At the same time, preparations are underway for the review itself – stakeholders have been contacted and working groups of scientists and field experts are being organized. 

Once all the feedback has been considered and  the ToR has been finalized, the work of drafting the review will begin in earnest. This first draft of the review is expected by the summer of 2019 – and we will of course keep you updated with progress on our website. 

Published on
Friday, 07 December 2018
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