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ASC ramps up fish welfare agenda

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
1 September 2021, at 9:27am

The ASC has launched a public consultation on ways to improve the welfare of farmed fish – covering issues including water quality, stocking density and slaughter methods.

Water quality, stocking density and slaughter techniques will all be debated
Water quality, stocking density and slaughter techniques will all be debated

Today’s consultation is the first phase of ASC’s wide-ranging fish welfare project. A second phase will follow for public consultation at a later date following further research and development, that will bring in other species and address further welfare issues.

The public consultation is now open and will allow anyone with an interest or expertise to provide feedback on the proposed additions to ASC standards. ASC is particularly targeting producers, experts from animal welfare NGOs and charities, scientists and researchers, and auditors.

It is one of two public consultations to be launched today: ASC is also consulting the public on important documents that will accompany the recently published ASC Feed Standard. This standard will provide unprecedented assurances to consumers that the feed used on ASC certified farms is responsibly sourced – whether it includes marine or land-based ingredients.

Both consultations will run for 60 days. They are open to all members of the public by visiting the ASC website, reading the summaries and completing short online surveys. The consultations can be found on the ASC's Fish Welfare page and Feed CAR page.

Welfare requirements

All ASC standard revisions are based on rigorous scientific evidence and research. The technical working group for fish welfare – made up of scientists, NGOs, producers and retailers – has been studying and commissioning research to inform the new requirements. What has been clear is the scope of welfare is so wide, and study of some areas so new, the topic is best divided into two phases.

This approach allows ASC to move forward with indicators covering issues on which there is a clear evidence-base and can be implemented in the short-term, while continuing to research the remaining issues. It means that some questions in the public consultation will be asking stakeholders for feedback on specific proposed issues for inclusion in the ASC standards, while other questions will ask for information that will be used to further plan and develop additional welfare requirements. Some issues will not be included in this round of consultation.

The proposed first phase of the welfare project will include:

  • Requirements of best practice for water quality.
  • Setting of limits for stocking density to require best practice.
  • As an initial approach, prohibiting a number of slaughter practices: asphyxia (suffocation); Carbon dioxide; salt baths or ammonia. Further requirements on slaughter will be added in later phases, such as the prohibition of the use of ice slurry for slaughter, to encourage ongoing improvements.
  • The phase one requirements above will apply to ASC certified finfish farms. However, included in phase one will be a requirement for good management practice for all farmers of fish, crustacean and bivalve species, covering issues such as staff training and risk assessment.

Janneke Aelen, ASC welfare coordinator, said in a press release: “There is an understandable desire among our stakeholders, and many consumers, to see more welfare requirements added to the world’s strictest aquaculture certification scheme.

“At the same time, with some of these issues we are in uncharted territory. Sometimes developing new indicators is a case of gathering pre-existing evidence, but in the case of some welfare issues it has required commissioning our own research.

“ASC is first and foremost an evidence-based organisation. This approach allows us to tackle the most urgent welfare issues while ensuring we don’t stray from our principles for rigour and evidence.”

New feed standard documents

Two new draft documents have been published to accompany the Feed Standard: the Certification and Accreditation Requirements (CAR) and the Requirements for Unit of Certification (RUoC). While the standard itself sets out the exact indicators that must be met for a mill to be produce responsibly sourced feed, the CAR details the requirements a certification body needs to follow in order to conduct audits and certify against the ASC feed standard. The RUoC is aimed at the organisations seeking certification, which in the case of the Feed Standard will be feed mills. It details the requirements the feed mill will need to take in order to enter and undergo the audit and certification process for the ASC feed standard.

ASC’s farm standards have the same assurance documents, and the draft RUoC and CAR for the Feed Standard have been produced with the same structure, and wherever possible contain the same requirements, only diverging where necessary. This ensures consistency and helps Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) that audit against standards, and other stakeholders working with multiple ASC standards.

New elements for the Feed Standard include requirements for due diligence on ingredient suppliers, and two models for accounting for ingredients, known as mass balance and segregation. The CAR and RUoC will provide requirements for the implementation of all of these new additions to ensure the Standard can be applied fairly, consistently and effectively.

Next steps

Responses to both consultations will be used to refine the draft documents. The first phase of the welfare requirements will be finalised with the intention to include them in the upcoming ASC Farm Standard, which will bring together all certified species into one standard. The second phase will be worked on by ASC staff and the Technical Working Group with an aim to publish more documents for public consultation in 2022.

The CAR and RUoC will be finalised for approval from ASC’s governance bodies with the aim to release them early in 2022. The documents will go live towards the end of 2022, giving stakeholders time to familiarise themselves with the requirements and train staff.