ASC balances the scales with responsible aquaculture and discusses Tasmanian salmon

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), headed in Australia by Duncan Leadbitter, says there is a middle path for fish farming in Australia, and there are responsible aquaculture farms, which hold certificates of compliance to world’s best practice in salmon farming, who are doing the right thing by the environment and their communities.

“As a not-for-profit who has been tackling the issues of sustainable aquaculture for over a decade we have welcomed the debate created by Richard Flanagan’s book Toxic.

But he says that debate is now failing conscientious consumers by oversimplifying very complex challenges. 

“Flanagan’s book brings up many important issues brought on by the growth of salmon farming in Tasmania, but to say all farms are equal, is just not true.

“Our organisation manages standards for responsibly farmed seafood. These standards operate in a similar fashion to other types of standards that the public is familiar with such as standards for organic  and Fairtrade production. 

“There are currently nine active leases for salmon farms in Australia certified to the ASC standard, all of which are located in the south east of Tasmania.

“While we can’t make assurances about all Tasmanian salmon farms, what we can say with certainty is if a consumer sees the ASC logo, they know the product came from a farm that has demonstrated, to an independent third-party, that it’s production has met the world’s strictest standards to minimise its environmental and social impacts.

“Our mission began a decade ago because salmon farming was being held to insufficient standards.   We share the author’s passions for protecting our oceans, rivers and lakes.

“We know that farming can have negative impacts if farms are not managed properly and held to strict standards, but this is true of all food production.

“But rather than generalising about entire industries we think it is better to individually assess producers based on their performance and help develop market incentives to support those that operate at the highest standard.

“Why?  Because for starters, overall, a well-managed farm has very little impact on biodiversity, and producing farmed fish has the lowest greenhouse gas production per kilo of almost all animal proteins.

“The biggest source of biodiversity loss on the planet, and particularly in Australia, and places like the Amazon, is land clearing for terrestrial agriculture. Of course, this doesn’t mean no one should eat plants – it means all food production has impacts and must be managed responsibly.

“Experts, NGOS and scientists were rallied together to establish the ASC, and as a result we have significant expertise on the subject with more than 10 years of research, development and working with farms and scientists to gauge and improve the environmental and social performance of farms”.

“This means ASC certified salmon farms must, among other things, source feed responsibly, prevent escapes, keep fish healthy without using antibiotics preventatively, and maintain high water quality.

“The first principle of all ASC standards is that farms should obey their local laws and regulations, and ASC respects the role of government in setting these laws according to local need. However, if a farms’ location is in accordance with the law, but it doesn’t meet the ASC environmental and social standards it would not be certified.

“The strength of the ASC program is that, far from making general or blanket statements, it is an evidence-based science program with targeted and detailed audits of individual farms. If a farm is ASC certified, it has passed an independent multi-day on-site audit, and must undergo similar audits on an annual basis to retain that certification.

“Another reason we believe encouraging the responsible farms through certification is important, is because we, along with a huge number of scientists, think that well-managed aquaculture, run ethically with a low carbon and low environmental footprint, is in one of the best positions to continue to feed the world’s growing population.

“Not eating meat can work for the individual, but isn’t useful across the entire globe, particularly in developing nations.

“Land-based vs sea-based fish farming can be done responsibly, and a number of land-based farms are ASC certified, but it has its own impacts and moving all farms to land could have consequences for land and energy use at a time when we are all trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Everything we do has an impact, so what we have to do is find and minimise those impacts. This isn’t the easy solution, in fact we have been working for years with scientists, NGOs, farmers, and the public, to develop and improve our standards for responsible aquaculture. But it is the right solution, because it is honest with consumers about the full scale of the challenge facing the world. 

“Every person should be aware of the issues posed by unsustainable farming, so that they can make an informed choice about what they eat.  

“But we need to go a step further, by acknowledging the complexities of feeding a rapidly growing population and looking into the environmental and social impacts of replacing seafood with alternative protein sources.