ASC marks ten years of transforming aquaculture

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has published its first annual report and reflects on the industry’s journey from the first farm to receive ASC certification to its strong industry presence today.

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
3 November 2022, at 9:08am
aerial view of a fish farm
Aerial view of an aquaculture site

2021 saw more than 20,000 ASC certified products get in consumers’ hands © Hanson Lu

With the first Annual Report “Transforming Aquaculture,” the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) looks back on 2021 and reflects on the 10 years since the first aquaculture farm achieved ASC certification.

In 2021, ASC’s efforts resulted in continued programme growth with activities dedicated to improving the accessibility of ASC certification, maintaining presence in existing markets and expanding to new ones; and putting over 20,000 ASC certified products in consumers’ hands.

“We are proud to publish the first Annual Report which celebrates not only the growing recognition for responsible aquaculture around the world, but also reaffirms our commitment towards continued progress,” Chris Ninnes, ASC CEO said.

“While 2021 challenged ASC’s innovation to continue promoting our programme and ASC labelled products we found new ways to reach our audiences, drive improvements to our systems and invest in our organisation.”

“Through ASC’s first Annual Report, we hope to provide a clear picture of ASC’s growth and development over the years, as well as assess our impacts and contributions towards responsible aquaculture,” Jill Swasey, ASC’s head of impacts said.

Driving improvements from the farm to plate

ASC currently operates 11 species-specific farm standards and a joint ASC-MSC seaweed standard, globally applicable where relevant fish and algae are farmed. There are around 2,000 certified farm sites covering 49 species.

In 2021, ASC experienced a 20 percent growth in the number of certified farms sites from the previous year, increasing the global production of seafood that meets the social responsibility and environmental sustainability requirements of ASC standards to over 2.5 million tonnes. In the same year, ASC certified farms made 2,780 improvements across the 11 standards in the areas of environmental performance (1,800), social responsibility (893) and legal compliance (87).

Fish farm in Turkey
Fish farm in the Mediterranean Sea

In 2021, ASC experienced a 20 percent growth in the number of certified farms sites from the previous year © TUDAV

Looking ahead to future developments, the recently launched ASC Feed Standard will address impacts beyond the farm, bringing sustainability requirements into feed mills that manufacture aquafeed, as well as the ingredient suppliers and the raw materials producers.

Demand for responsibly produced seafood growing

By the end of the year, the availability of ASC-certified products grew by 10 percent compared to the previous year, bringing over 20,000 ASC labelled products to consumers, with over 275,000 tonnes sold. Global retail markets continued to demonstrate a strong preference for salmon and shrimp, which account for 70 percent of ASC labelled product weight. Moreover, demand is rising for other important regional species, such as trout, seabass and seabream. There was strong uptake of ASC labelled products in Southern European markets and an increased strategic focus on bringing key species to US and UK markets.

oysters
ASC certified oysters from the Jersey Oyster Company, UK

More than 275,000 tonnes of ASC certified seafood was sold last year © Jersey Oyster Company

Increased awareness through effective communication and storytelling

In 2021, ASC hosted events, competitions, promotions and tasting sessions, delivering educational and entertaining campaigns to engage consumers in collaboration with over 230 commercial and non-commercial partners. ASC’s partners have included retailers, fish suppliers, fishmongers, top brands, restaurants and food chains, NGOs, zoos, aquaria and museums.

“It has been a valuable and informative process to collaborate with ASC over the past few years to explore how we can mutually support responsible aquaculture, and in particular aquaculture improvements,” said Dave Martin, programme director at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a non-profit organisation that aims to rebuild depleted fish stocks and reduce the environmental and social impacts of fishing and fish farming.

Cultivating trust through Programme Assurance

In 2021, 67 assessments of Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) performance were conducted covering 92 percent of defined target areas and to address incidents. The number of CABs in the ASC programme grew to 14, representing 184 auditors worldwide qualified to evaluate farms against ASC’s strict environmental and social requirements.

Chris Ninnes headshot
Chris Ninnes is the CEO of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council

As highlighted in the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2022 SOFIA report, with the increasing demand for seafood, its high value and complex supply chain, the risk of fraud is real and present. Assurance services developed by ASC aim to combat these risks through the use of innovative technologies. For instance, the Trace Element Fingerprinting (TEF) allows for the traceability of products to the source farms by evaluating products against a database of known samples.

Improvement through feedback

In 2021, ASC conducted public consultations on four key programme improvements – the ASC Farm Standard, Chain of Custody Module, Fish Welfare and Feed Certification requirements. Consultations met overarching participation goals of stakeholder representation and ASC aims to further improve the participation of producers across all ASC certifiable species. Over 300 stakeholders (organisations and individuals) across 35 countries provided feedback through ASC’s consultations.

“We are excited about our continuous improvements, programme developments and increasing awareness in support of our mission and look forward to demonstrating annual progress in the years to come,” Ninnes concluded.