ASC CEOs & WWF-US interviews (2010-2013)

Below are the transcripts of 4 interviews carried out in 2010 & 2013 (in antechronological order):

NB: Another interview of the ASC CEO Chris Ninnes was published in SeafoodIntelligence’s 2014 Benchmarking report (together with the transcripts of our ‘Sustainability Conversations’ with other key decision-makers in the aquaculture/salmon farming realm): 


Interview with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) CEO, Chris Ninnes

(at the European Seafood Expo / ESE on April 24, 2013)

Article/Interview by Bertrand Charron, editor The ASC was a bit behind schedule in launching its first products but you are getting there now

Chris Ninnes: An interesting comparison is that it took the MSC nine years to get to 300 products; the market receptivity towards the ASC means we got there in less than six months with just two species [pangasius/catfish and tilapia]. It’s quite incredible: the market interest in the ASC and… it’s really great. The support we are getting from the supply chain – from the producers and processors through to the retailers, through service companies: it’s fantastic!

“The uptake of products is continuing almost on a daily basis…”

Vietnam [quoting the Vietnamese Minister speaking an interview with Seafood Intelligence earlier on that day**] is optimistic it can reach the ASC-certification of 50% of its pangasius/catfish production by 2015… Is that realistic?

They have a very ambitious target, and its good to have an ambitious target… it’s challenging: they are putting a lot of resources into it. They are also getting support from IDH* for farmers who want to make improvements. So all things are possible. Certainly the growth which they have registered so far has been very rapid… so if they continue on that trajectory, I think they can meet that target.

Obviously there is a lot to do… The farms which we certify first tend to be – by their very nature – the more progressive, or better organized ones more attuned to the market, and as you go further down, of course there is more learning to be done and perhaps further improvements to make. But a stretching target is good!

*NB: IDH = the Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative, the ASC co-founder with WWF.

How much do those 34 ASC-certified Pangasius farms represent in production terms?

CN: … it’s about 120,000 tonnes of pangasius, and about 80,000 tonnes of tilapia.

Just been talking to Villa Organic staff, and they’re advertising the ‘ASC soon’…

Yes, the standard is ‘live’ now… it has passed all the approvals: they [Villa Organic] have been part of pilot pre-assessment work, so they have an idea… I understand that have contracted with a certifier to begin the audit process in early September… so they seem very committed and its fantastic news.

Are there other salmon farmers gearing up for ASC certification?

I think there are a number of farms, certainly that I’m aware of… I don’t believe they’re the only ones interested in making an early start.

Do you have a date in mind for ‘rolling out’ the first ASC-certified farmed salmon?

To an extent, that’s beyond our control now… it’s between the farms themselves, the certifiers, and the farms’ compliance to the standards – which is the most important thing here… So there is a formal process where farms make an announcement which we the post on our website, and there are various stages that are then notified, including a draft report opportunity for consultation on that report, and then a final report… So there is a transparent process so that people can be informed about it, as we will. We’re not an ‘active participant’ in the process from this point on, really…

So I just hope that it goes as smoothly as they [Villa Organic] anticipate, and that they become certified and that those products flow to market. .. Because salmon is an eagerly awaited product. It’s on the lips on almost everybody I’ve talked to about the ASC and they all wanted to know when salmon would be certified. The market demand is strong.

Have you revised since last year your forecast for a certain marketshare you would be achieve for salmon?

I think it’s early days to be forecasting in that way; I think we want to see how the standard runs. We want to see how the uptake will be, how the market will be… But you know: the standards are aimed to be set at the level that should satisfy this initial demand in the market.

The idea is that the requirements are being set so that maybe 15%, maybe 20% of production could meet the standards. Of course it’s a rule of thumb: it’s very difficult to base that on any empirical knowledge, but that’s the intent. It’s a market-based standard so you want some products to be able to get certified to create further demand to drive further improvements in farmed production.

We have to sit back and watch… It seems it’s right for tilapia and pangasius. That early progress is as you’d expect. And as we’ve discussed, we expect that further production that will have to meet the standard will actually have to make improvements in the way they actually produce… which is exactly what the programme is being designed to create… unleash market forces to promote better production!

This ‘unleashing of market forces’… has it anything to do with the red-listing of pangasius…? I understand the [IDH] Accelerator Programme is there to facilitate this, but it’s a very fast uptake… Is it all coming from the retailer side?

Having visited quite a few of the certified production facilities – remembering these are quite often integrated facilities : both farms and processing facilities, with sometimes even their own feed production facilities: these are sophisticated companies that are managed in a modern way. And maybe the documentary that caused a lot of concerns in Germany, maybe that wasn’t really representative of those companies. It sort of portrayed maybe some of the worst production, but at the same time there were some very good production. And I think that’s been shown to be true with the certifications that have occurred.

On the feed topic, at the very basis of aquaculture: Wouldn’t there be a case for looking at the feed as a specific industry/production sector? Should the ASC perhaps focus even more on the sustainability of feed production?

Today, I spoke of a ‘Feed Dialogue’ that the ASC is launching. Originally that was driven for the need to harmonize across the ASC standards… The eight standards themselves were all developed independently of each other. So they had a common framework, but of course the individual requirements within them were developed by the individual Dialogue. So – again unsurprisingly – the approaches that they took to feed differ slightly.

There is a need for the ASC to consolidate, for a very important reasons: because if we have consistency, then that ask that we have of the feed industry is then also consistent. So they known what an ASC compliant feed is about. And it makes it much easier for them to produce… and importantly: it makes it much easier to produce more efficiently. Which is what we really need!

Within this Dialogue process and the agreement that we have signed with the GAA and GlobalGAP: they both want to be involved as active participants in this Feed Dialogue. So that immediately multiples the potential this Feed Dialogue has for both standardization, but also directing the slack supply chain pressure back down to the producers of the fish or the soy to improve the management to meet credible standards.

I think it’s a really exciting initiative and I think the outcomes of it could make real and meaningful improvement in the environmental profiles of those sectors.

What does this new GlobalGAP, GAA and ASC co-operation really entail?

I think, again, one of the big drivers in our discussions was recognizing that we all have a common vision of what we try to achieve as certifications progress. We recognize that we could waste a lot of energy trying to be negative about each others’ programmes, rather than recognizing that if we could approach this collaboratively, we could become much more effective as standards-setters in our own rights.

So although the standards are different – they have different aspects: both GAA and GlobaGAP for instance have a strong food safety element to their programme , and we don’t ..

Which might not be a bad thing..

Absolutely, not a bad thing at all: in fact it is quite complementary… But we also recognize that across the environmental criteria that we have, the social criteria that we have, that there is some duplication and that: ‘wouldn’t it be good’ if we could recognize that… and avoid the additional audit costs to producers, to farmers so that we could mutually recognize this.

I don’t think we’re talking about equivalency, because we have different standards and we do recognize that we have different levels of requirements: that’s good, that’s not a bad thing!

Now, there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of details to hammer out. What it might look like in the future? it’s not absolutely clear now… But I think we have a common vision of where we want to take it, and that’s the most important thing because if you have the intent, you can get it done…

What’s coming next from the ASC?

We’ll see in fairly short order the emergence of bivalves, trout, abalone, and towards the end of this year: shrimp.

For bivalves, is there not sometime an overlap with the ASC certification, for instance for many rope-grown mussel fisheries?

I think it’s right… In some ways I was the architect of the MSC’s approach to look at some of those enhanced fisheries issues. I think the distinction in terms of assessing impacts: for some of the culture if it involves some sort of fishing –type operation to collect the spat, then clearly those impacts are best measured through the MSC standards.

I think that because the ASC standards are being designed as specific to aquaculture, then the structure of the standards themselves are much better fitted to aquaculture production. Whereas of course the MSC system is being originally designed for wild capture and then modified.

I suspect that there will be some efficiencies as a result of that in terms of comparing one assessment process against the other, and at the end of the day it’ll come down to a choice in terms of what the producer thinks the market wants most, and which offers the most value. Of course part of that proposition are the actual costs in the assessment.

It’s quite ironic to see quite a lot of aquaculture companies in the shellfish sector – or recognized themselves as being ‘aquaculture’ even in their own title – going for MSC certification…

On a technical level it’s quite an interesting discussion because there’s really a continuum from truly wild-capture to truly-aquaculture, and it becomes most distinctive when you have a manipulation of broodstock and the like, and laboratory facilities to promote the production of eggs or young [(sell)fish]… Indeed if you have a look at some of the production systems in South East Asia, the boundaries between the two become very blurred…



Of Sustainable Pangasius production & ASC certification: ASC certification: “We have no choice”… – Vietnam’s Fisheries Minister

Excerpts from an earlier interview, carried out by on the same day (24.04.2013) at the ESE, with Nguyen Huy Dien, Director of Vietnam’s Aquaculture Department (and deputy Director General of the General Fisheries Department) at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.


SeafoodIntelligence: What are your latest achievements and goals when it comes to the farmed fish sector?

Nguyen Huy Dien: In 2013, we have been applying standards such as the ASC, GlobalGAP and others to our main aquaculture species, such as pangasius, tilapia and molluscs.

The production has been increased but the environment has to be monitored and controlled, and the social and economic aspects must be considered, such as labor conditions and gender equality. […] the quality of our seafood production must be improved…

Our goal is to have 50% of the pangasius production ASC-certified by 2015… We need that. Quality is our goal, we have no choice. How do you sell to some markets otherwise…?

Fisheries and aquaculture products becoming for Vietnam’s economy… Do you have targets for 2015-2020?

Yes, we have a Master Plan… we have to keep the same production of 2.4 million tonnes for the fisheries sector. But for aquaculture production, we have to increase by 10-15% per year. We have to reach this target by 2020, and after that we will reconsider the target.

10-15% per year… Is that sustainable?

Yes, it is possible because we have a lot of potential for aquaculture production, including for marine species. That’s why we believe we can reach this target. We have to apply high technology and be environmentally-friendly and we have to be sustainable: that’s very important…


“Our immediate target is B2B with a view to moving B2C” – Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) CEO

Article/Interview by Bertrand Charron, editor;

Posted on 28 May 2010 14:30

The newly created Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) – founded by WWF and IDH (Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative) – presented its visual identity for the first time at the 2010 European Seafood Exposition in Brussels last had an exclusive interview with its CEO Dr Philip Smith (formerly MD of Marine Harvest Europe) to grasp the strategy and aim of the organisation which will take-over the standards elaborated by the Aquaculture Dialogues – once they are finalised by the end of 2010 and early 2011 – and offer a new set of certifications for twelve of the world’s largest aquacultured seafood species (shrimp, salmon, abalone, clams, mussels, scallops, oysters, pangasius, tilapia, trout, seriola and cobia) by mid-2011. Strategy, benefits and lack of competitivity, corporate and social responsibility, shareholder value, retail & food service commitments for sustainable seafood sourcing, transparency & multistakeholder process, access to new markets, volatility in the marketplace, WalMart, Ahold, Metro, multiplicity of standards & ecolabels, benchmarking with other certifications (organic or not), etc… All these are some of the topics addressed in this lengthy discussion, and gives an idea of the potential held by this ‘new’ player. A potential seriously to be reckoned with. Indeed – very much like (and perhaps more than) the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and its eco-labelleing has and is revolutionising the wild-catch fisheries trade & its management – the ASC aims to transform the global aquaculture industry towards responsible farming (which will lead to sustainability) by using the global seafood market mechanisms and by creating demand at the retail end. Meanwhile, it is building up its organisational capacity, developing a consumer-facing logo to be introduced mid-2011, and working at expanding its Board membership. “I think there will be tremendous market support,” says Dr Smith.

Dr Philip Smith – ASC CEO:

“We will be the holding body for the Dialogue standards. It’s our responsibility at the ASC to implement the certification of farms to those standards, using accredited certifiers, and to ultimately provide for those certified a consumer-facing label… much the same as the MSC in that regard.

So what we’re doing is putting in all the necesssary processes to get the ASC established as an independent not-for-profit foundation based in the Netherlands […], and to establish the appropriate governance structures – following from the Aquaculture Dialogues – also to be multi-stakeholder. […] This is embodied in everything we do.

“It is important that we do that to maintain the creditility and the robustness of the standards; through the process of the standards’ setting (the Dialogues), the third-party certification, and multi-stakeholder contribution.

The Supervising Board has a mix of NGOs, industry, development, WWF, Pew… But “to be clear,” he adds; “it is individuals that are on the Board, because they have knowledge, they have skill sets, they are supportive of the ASC and what it is there to achieve. They don’t represent their organisation.”[…] “This also includes Jose [Villalon] of WWF-US as chairman; but it is important that he is on that Board independently.”

“We will expand the Board, possibly by seven to nine members, probably by the Autumn [2010].”

“It is important that we look at the composition of the Board in terms of scales, geographies, coming reviews of the broad spectrum of interested parties; so it can be industry, producers, retail, NGOs… it’s really important that we get a good mix, which will maintain the spirit of the Dialogues.”

“We are already formally a Foundation, and I am building organisational capacity and competence to deliver the ASC strategy, [which] is to build interest at the consumer level – you have to do that through the retail and service companies of course. Our immediate target is B2B [business-to-business] with a view to moving B2C [business-to-consumers]To build support for the whole ASC… and in doing that on the demand side, to really use the market mechanism to transform the aquaculture industry towards responsible farming which will lead to sustainability. That’s the strategy!”

“Over the next 12 months, I will continue to build the organisation to deliver that. Of course in line with the resources one has available to do that….

“By the end of the year [2010], we hope to be having some experience with certification. We will have an accreditation body; and already some identified certification bodies to audit the standards will be coming onboard in the next nine months or so.

“In parallel with that, we will be looking to develop our consumer-facing logo and introducing it to consumers by the middle of next year.


As soon as the Dialogues are completed – and not only the standards but also the documentation necessary to make them auditable – they will be handed over to the ASC and will become the ASC standards.

[Regarding other standards backed by the WWF:] WWF will transition to ASC at the most appropriate time… What about the ASC Standards’ evolution?

“The minimum to meet in compliance with ISEAL, which is the ambition of ASC (we’ll apply in due course) as well as the Dialogues, in not more than five years.

“If that happens earlier because of some very interesting developments, then we could be in a position to do that. It is quite important to set up a technical steering group which will be composed from members of the various dialogues, in order to address future developments of standards. The ASC will not do that in isolation… It will be done through a continuing process of mutli-stakeholder dialogue. It is really important to maintain this multi-stakeholder approach because we absolutely don’t want to unwind the whole good of the process.

“I think there will be tremendous market support. Originally in Northern Europe but it will expand to other regions. The issue will be ‘how big are the gaps between the current practice and the standards’, and ‘what will it take for producers to close that gap and over what period of time’. It will be very different for the different species, the different geographies…

“For some of the producers which are already to high standards of aquaculture practice, the gap will not very big, if at all.At the other extreme, there will be some far away from being able to meet the standards. So you may get an initial uptake from the ‘better producers’ – only in terms of those standards – and it may take some while for others to put in place the necessary documentations and practices and necessary investments. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. It’s about encouraging the improvement of aquaculture practice towards the ebtter end of the spectrum.”

Will there be an economic argument for the ASC to make in order to convince producers they should apply for ASC certification?

We will create the demand. I think the retailers and the market itself will manage to encourage their suppliers to get onboard, or because of the commitments of the retailer and food service companies, they won’t be able to supply them. You can’t have the retailer at one end making significant committment to go towards this responsible sourcing route, and then not encouraging their suppliers not actually meet that goal. So they will be some drive there.

But at the end of the day, the question you are really asking is: ‘will this process create any kind of value for producers’. It depends on your perspective of value. It will create value at a number of different levels. Fo some producers it may well be that it will lead to increased profitability… There is no guarantee that it always is about profits. […]

For some, it may be about creating shareholder value because of the application of their own corporate and social responsibility [CSR] and the impact of that on their own brand. But on the other end, it may protect them against loss of shareholder value, because if the trend is going to go in this direction – and producers and retailers are not getting onboard – then they could find themselves losing value, as perceived by consumers and also by their investors.

If you take a look also at how could value be created, let’s say in places such as Southeast Asia: they don’t have current access to the more mature markets, the European market, which do generally pay higher prices than what they are getting in their local market… getting certified gives them access to market they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. That is also value creation, and leads to more profit opportunity.

I do believe the application of good aquaculture practice, which the standards drives, is also sensible business practice. When you manage farms you realise the better you are informed, the better you are able to manage. Getting the right processes in place to have suitable recording to measure, FCRs, inputs, effluents, the environment of the ponds/cages, etc… it’s all about providing them the best possible environment and the best possible efficient feeding practices.

If the ASC drives farms in that direction, it should drive their costs lower and should benefit them in that way as well. So… there is a whole spectrum of opportunities for farming businesses,” he concludes on that topic.

Do you have ways of gauging if many salmon – or other species – growers are already interested?

No, it is just too early to say. Obviously the salmon industry is a lot more consolidated than any other industries. Therefore you have to reach fewer players. There is generally more management & infrastructure in place – I don’t say always, but often – and so the interest and the potential uptake is somewhat easier than addressing the vast numbers of small holders in shrimp or pangasius in Thailand or Vietnam or Indonesia… I think from a capacity-building point of view, you need to work a lot harder to get the producers to meet the standards in asia, the you would with salmon. But that doesn’t mean to say the ratio [of uptake]will be any better or worse. I don’t know how that will end up, whether it will be 20% plus or minus [of the global market] or whatever…

Do you think the ASC standards-to be will be more widely accepted than the MSC’s? Other NGOs [such as the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pew-funded Pure Salmon Campaign, when it comes to farmed salmon] may also have other standards/demands in mind?

Those organisations are involved in the Dialogues process, which has been totally open and transparent. All those who wanted to get involved have had an opportunity to do so, and still can. […] even having done all that, there is no guarantee that all factions of NGOs or all individuals won’t have strong views at both end of the spectrum about whether the standards are too rigid or not rigid enough… there is a spectrum there.

I hope that that process minimises the potential criticisms, but of course there is no guarantee […] One can’t respond also to every viewpoint, otherwise you lose the essence of the multi-stakeholder process.

It’s an open process. We must be continuously open to viewpoints. The ASC and the various stakeholders groups which are engaged in the ASC process will be open to always collecting views and see what can be done about them.

The standards are specific to those social and environmental impacts that have been addressed in the dialogues. As one’s knowledge and as the focus around the world changes on issues – like climate change and CO2 footprints – change, they may be taken onboard by the standards over a period of time.

Do the ASC standards open up the possibility for an sustainable increase in global aquaculture production in years to come? 

The fact is that there will be nine billion people likely to be on the Earth in 2050; it is one and a half times what we have now; and food security is going to be a big issue. I think aquaculture has a tremendous opportunity to grow and to make a contribution to food security for many people around the world.

It also makes a major contribution to the possibility for many developing countries to earn income through exports, which is also contributing to their economic development. […] so for all those reasons I think it’s important that aquaculture can grow, but you also have to realise that it can never realise that growth unless one finds – and its not just with aquaculture but also agriculture as a whole an many other industries – a more responsible way leading to sustainability to do things.

The planet’s resources is being used at a faster rate than can sustain long-term growth and we have to realise that. So for me, it’s better to actually find innovations now to drive more responsible production to meet these standards and reduce the impact on the environment, to enable us to grow. I mean, it is that simple! It is an important point that people have to grasp.

Also, having been in the industry as long as I have, I’ve seen the impacts of volatility in the market place. It is sometimes simply about imbalance between supply and demand; and you know that in business this is having major impacts on price. And that can be exacerbated by disturbances as we have seen in Chile [referring to the ISA crisis, and the sharp drop in farmed salmon production there].

We’ve also seen it around the world in shrimp. We’ve seen rapid growth in aquaculture in Thailand, we’ve seen it in China. We’ve seen rapid growth of aquaculture in a number of sectors, only to see it going into some kind of problems.

In following good practice, we can reduce the impact of that kind of volatility, then we have a better outcome for the whole industry. Volatility is no good for anybody: it is not good for producers, it’s not good for buyers, for consumers, for investors… You need a much more stable growth.

If all of our efforts can lead to that kind of more sustainable growth, then of course I think we’re doing a good job.

It is interesting that the founders of the MSC have chosen the Netherlands as a base for their headquarters; The Dutch government is quite committed towards helping fisheries – together with the whole fishing sector – achieve MSC certification… so is the country a very environmentally place & a good platform from which to lobby other European governments into the ASC/MSC ‘way’; as things are often easier changed from the top than from the bottom?

Again, emphasising the process that we’ve been in… involves government officials, at the end of the day, governments will address their own legislations to address some of those issues. They’re doing their own evaluations in all kinds of ways; and in that sense we’re delighted to also have a dialogue with them, and be part of that process.

I don’t know whether you call that lobbying or whether it is just the culture of our organisation that we’re open to dialogue. We think it is important that governments understand what we’re doing, and support us in that effort. It’s not always possible…

I think it is an important process that in a way we are leading by setting example. And as far as possible wewill have that dialogue with governments to have them understand and support our position as a leader in creating responsibility.

Obviously through IDH (which is funded through the Dutch government), they are very supportive of us; we’re very pleased to have IDH as a co-founder and supporter, as well as WWF.

Forthcoming growth will mean more funding requirements. You will probably thus be looking at additional ‘benefactors’ to support this; such as foundations…Is this an ‘unsurmountable task’? Or do you think you have an easy case to sell?

I don’t know that we have an easy case, but we believe very much in our case and we hope that we can attract sufficient interest and support of funders to realise the strategies that I’ve talked about.

We have to balance our need to develop resources to deliver that strategy against our capability to fund it… In that regard we’re no different from any start-up business. Ultimately, I think funders would like to believe that organisation such as the ASC could be self-funded, and that would be an ambition we would subscribe to. Over what period of time yet remains to be seen. How big will the funding gap remains to be seen, and we’re looking at strategies to see our we can develop our offerings to realise income opportunities to align the income and the outgoings.

So of course we’re looking at a wide-spectrum of potential funders, and I hope that we have indeed a good message that we can enjoy their support over this initial period.

And we do have some support. Obviously the co-founders, but we have other discussions ongoing in order to really get us off the ground. […] I’m optimistic otherwise I wouldn’t be here!

Will the ASC answer criticisms about the multiplicity of standards? Will this be the end of ‘labelling competition’? Will you be the ultimate certification for aquaculture?

At the end of the day, those people that are engaging retail, food service and at the market-end and consumer end, will judge for themselves what kind of assurance they want to give to their customers about which standards they take, and what it means. It’s not just about the standards themselves, it’s about the whole “package”: the methodology, the credibility and the process which goes behind the standards. The way the standards are certified by third party accredited certifiers, the whole ISEAL membership and what that means… Support, education…

Like any product in any marketplace: people will want to choose which is their chosen suppliers.

I just think we have a great offer, I have to say I would be very surprised if we are not the leading certification scheme for aquaculture in not too distant a future.

We are somewhat late coming in into an already crowded marketplace it seems. But our standards are the most robust and credible, so our product is arguably the best – that is for others to judge, not me, but I’m sure they’ll agree [laughs]. We have a tremendous pedigree of support, not only with our co-founders but also with retailers that’s given us a lot of support.

Who are those supportive retailers at the moment?…

Ahold for example; Metro also… it’s a wide-spectrum of support.

Is the door open to Walmart, which has already been very supportive of the MSC?…

The door is alway open… We have a dialogue with WalMart, both in the United States, but also through ASDA in the UK, and of course we’re always open to listen to what they have to say. We hope that they will give us the support as they’ve done with GAA [the global Aquaculture Alliance & their Best Aquaculture Practices – BAP] in the US, but that remains to be seen. We think that that relationship could also be beneficial, so give it time!

Compared to organic labels – which were the first ones to come & offer credibility to some aspects of sustainability to the farmed fish market, it seem that many of those standards will be included in the ASC-standards to be [they are not finalised yet, except for tilapia]; will you bring some shade to their market as well?

There are so many organic standards… We haven’t done any benchmarking studies on ASC standards against others and maybe they will include some organic standards, but some will be done [even if not actually by the ASC]… “many NGOs are interested in looking in comparing standards… all of those things will be open for anybody to do that kind of work.”

I hope that when those studies are done they go in a good way… It’s taken a lot of time to develop the standards. It would be a shame if any evaluations are done with anything less than the same vigor. We don’t want superficial benchmarking; but in-depth benchmarking of course we will welcome. And again, there will be plenty of judges out there on what impact it has on organic labels.


“We’re targetting 15% by 2020 for the global market” – WWF Director of Aquaculture re. ASC certs

Article/Interview by Bertrand Charron, editor

Posted on 26 May 2010 08:51

Jose Villalon – Director of Aquaculture, working under the Markets program at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and in charge of developing the Aquaculture Dialogues & standards, and Katherine Bostick in charge of the Salmon Dialogue, spoke

during the recent ESE 2010 in Brussels. Rather than tackling the specifics of the standards (most still being drafted, bar for tilapia; and which would have taken many hours nobody could spare) – we were more interested in discussing how they grasped the challenges of such an ambitious multi-stakeholder process – there is a lot of opposition when it comes to fish/salmon farming – and where it is going from here…

Establishing the terms of reference and getting the concept operating was the first challenge, and a substantial one, concedes Jose Villalon. Devising and working in such transparent, multi-stakeholder, consensus-building dialogue process is a task that requires a lot of time…: “We spent a really long time to do all that… one and a half year for salmon [process kicked off in 2004, and is due for completion in 2010]…” said Jose Villalon. Whereas for other species, such as tilapia, all that hard work had already been done; “it was [almost] done in 15 minutes [laugh]…”

For salmon, establishing a 9-member decision-making steering committee was “when real negotiation started” he says. They were fortunate to benefit from professional facilitation throughout and for all the Dialogues, he adds. One of the most rewarding achievements (to date)?! “Reaching an achievable threshold”… “It’s been very rewarding to see how people’s mindset change from ‘my position is…’ to become ‘let’s get some shared understanding’.”..

The multistakeholder process has its downside though: Getting to know each other “does take time.” […] “You can’t have it both ways: be fully transparent and have a standard out in one and a half year” […] “It’s a journey”, Villalon said of the whole process, pensively…

Something which was not always easy thus, but can best be exemplified by the topic of feed usage where “feed conversion ratios” (FCRs) were constantly quoted as a measuring stick by fish farmers (eg: “1.2 kg of feed yields 1kg of salmon”) but did not address the concerns of environmentalists (eg: “it really takes 4kg of fish to raise 1kg of farmed salmon”). Thus the ‘two camps’ (that’s a binary, ‘black & white’ over-simplication; the reality is much more complex, and nuanced) were opposing themselves on issues in which they used different terminologies and concepts… One of the notable achievement of the Dialogues, Mr Villalon says, was to replace reference to FCRs by the new concept of “fish-in/fish-out ratio” or ‘Feed Fish Equivalency Ratio (FFER)’; then used for each of the Aquaculture Dialogue species.

The all-encompassing FFER takes into account the yield of forage fish live weight to dry fishmeal weight, the efficiency of feed use (referring to the FCR) and the rates of fishmeal and fish oil in feed, Villalon explained.

What was one of the most challenging issues on which to reach consensus for the salmon Dialogue? we asked… Both Mr Villalon and Mrs Bostick referred to the disease transmission issues, such as with sea lice. For instance, some farmers may already have in place very good standards and codes of practices, but others may not have equally stringent standards. The difficulty in drafting a standard is compounded by the fact that a company’s action (which may or may not want to be part of a certification process) may impact on another fish farmer’s action (intending to take part)… Co-operation within the same bay/fjord areas “would be ideal” summarises Mr Villalon.

There thus still remains a lot of debate before reaching the December 2010 deadlines, he says. “The 1st draft is a big milestone”; and for farmed salmon, it is expected in June.

When we asked Mr Villalon to comment on demands by some critics (some of whom sit on the steering committee of some of the Dialogues) that all salmon farming be done in closed containment, he tackled the question rather diplomatically. Of course, the elaboration of the standards is still ongoing and it is a mutli-stakeholder process, where people often have differing views. In the future, he comments, “there is always going to be groups pushing for certain technologies” […] “what’s the point in tackling an industry with no problem?”

In any case, he assures that standards – once established – will not be set in stone: “The ASC [Aquaculture Stewardship Council*] will revisit it [standard] every five years or maybe less” depending on progress in technology and science.

Asked what proportion of the market/volumes for each species, the WWF was hoping to have onboard/take up the standards and reach certification, Villalon said, irrespective of the species: “We’re targetting 15% by 2020 for the global market.”

Paramount to the Aquaculture Dialogues is the goal to help the industry improve and become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. The idea behind the standards is not to increase costs for fish and shellfish farmers, he assures: “It’s fair to say there won’t be an incremental cost associated with compliance” of the new (yet-to-be) ASC aquaculture certification.

Finally, ‘what about the future?’ we asked ‘will you be out of work once all the species’ standards are finalised by end 2010?’ No, he smiles: “we’re always going to have so work to do”. Other species such as sea bream, carp in China, or grouper are under consideration; and perhaps also a ‘feed dialogue’…

Aquaculture Dialogue background:

The Aquaculture Dialogues are a set of species-focused roundtables which started in 1994 working to create measurable and performance-based standards for responsible aquaculture, and which has involved around 2,000 people over the past few years.

Standards designed to minimize the potentially negative impact shrimp and abalone aquaculture can have on the environment, farm workers and communities near aquaculture farms were posted on March 1st) for the first of two public comment periods. The draft standards are products of the WWF-initiated Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue and the Abalone Aquaculture Dialogue, two roundtables that include more than 500 people, among them aquaculture industry leaders, NGOs and scientists. The start of the shrimp and abalone public comment periods represents a pivotal moment for the Aquaculture Dialogues, whereas, the Dialogues’ tilapia standards were finalised and presented last December; and the pangasius (Asian ‘catfish’) standards were expected to be completed in April.

Once the standards have been finalised at the end of 2010 and early 2011, they will be ‘passed on’ by WWF to the *Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) which it co-founded & recently launched, entity which will manage and supervise the third party & independent certification process. (see the interview we will publish tomorrow – 27.05.2010 – morning of Dr Philip Smith, CEO of the ASC).

See the WWF Aquaculture Dialogue website for more details:



Sustainable Seafood Intelligence, News & Consultancy for Stakeholders of the Global Seafood, Fisheries & Aquaculture sectors with a focus on issues re. industry Transparency (#Top35Salmon #Top100Seafood), Economic, Social and Environment Sustainability, Ethics (#SeafoodEthics #SustainableSeafood #TransformSeafood #ResponsibleSeafood #SeafoodIntelligence), CSR/RSE & Politics… Perceptions of issues (negative & positive) impacting industry’s Social License to Operate (SLO) and acceptance. Farmed salmon & global seafood industry Sustainability Reporting benchmarks…. Multi-stakeholder sustainability thinking & analysis applied to seafood…