June 5 is an important date for those of us who love the oceans, for two reasons. It’s World Environment Day, which you may have heard of, but it’s also the UN’s International Day for the Fight Against Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, which you may not have.
International Day for the Fight Against IUU Fishing doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and it’s only been commemorated by the UN since 2018, but it marks a big milestone. On this day in 2016 the first international treaty designed to end IUU fishing (The FAO Port State Measures Agreement) came into force.
If you’re on the ASC website there’s a chance you’re already environmentally conscious and understand why it’s so important to end this kind of fishing – at a time when so many fish stocks are threatened it can undermine efforts to protect and preserve them. It might be a bit less obvious why it’s relevant to ASC, an organisation that focuses on aquaculture, that is, farmed rather than wild caught seafood.
But responsible aquaculture can also have an impact on wild fish stocks – and not just by taking pressure off these stocks by providing alternatives. Fishmeal and fish oil from wild capture make up the ingredients of many feeds used in aquaculture – but it’s important to note that the amount of wild caught fish used in feed has been shrinking since the 90s, and what is used is often coming from by-products. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), fishmeal production peaked in 1994 and has been in decline since then. At the same time, a growing share comes from by-products which were previously wasted – the FAO estimates that up to 35% of fishmeal now comes from these sources. It adds that the inclusion rates of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds “have shown a clear downward trend as they are used more selectively.”
This is good news as it helps to drive down aquaculture’s impact on wild fish stocks. But as always at ASC we want to do more to ensure that what fishmeal or fish oil is used has been sourced responsibly and sustainably.
While our standards already include requirements on the responsible sourcing of feed, we will this year be publishing a standalone Feed Standard that applies to all ASC farms and tackles this issue with unprecedented stringency.
The ASC Feed Standard addresses marine ingredients like fishmeal and fish oil through a global improvement model that requires feed mills to source marine ingredients from fisheries demonstrating increasing levels of sustainability and eventually MSC certification. Once operational, feed mills will be able to apply for certification against the Feed Standard, and ASC certified farms will need to source feed from mills which are certified against the Feed Standard.
And although today is focused on IUU fishing, it’s also important to note that the ASC Feed Standard will be applicable to all feed ingredients that make up over 1% of the feed – this is really important because of course land-based ingredients make up a big portion of most feed and can also have negative impacts. On top of that, feed mills will have to demonstrate more generally that they are run in an environmentally and socially responsible way, covering issues such as fair treatment of workers, carbon emissions and water usage.
Which brings us to the wider issues marked by World Environment Day. This has been going on for quite a bit longer – since 1972, in fact – but it also commemorates an international agreement to take action, in this case the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
Our standards cover more environmental issues than we can mention here, but they include: limits on medication and chemical use; limits on escapes; prohibitions on the use of critically important antibiotics; monitoring of nearby water and the seabed for pollution; and the protection of biodiversity and important habitats such as coastal mangrove forests. That’s on top of the social requirements that ensure that farms treat and pay their workers fairly, as well as maintaining good relationships with their neighbours. A farm can’t become certified unless it meets social and environmental requirements, because we don’t think the two can be separated – damaging or mistreating our shared environment has numerous social impacts, after all.
Getting your protein from seafood can also help reduce your carbon footprint: fish is one of the most efficient converters of feed into high quality food, with a lower carbon footprint compared to other animal production systems. To take just one example, farmed salmon produces a fraction of the carbon generated by the beef industry.
If you do want to learn more, you can do so at the World Environment Day website. And if you’d like to help reward responsible fish farming, one easy step you can make is looking for the ASC logo.