In order to implement the project, National Fish and Seafood signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and Vietnam-based Minh Phu - one of the largest aquaculture producers in the world, at Seafood Expo North America 2016.
“We are proud of this initiative, as it will shape the future of our industry and chart a course that will deliver exceptional product, ethical accountability and environmental sustainability while meeting ever-growing customer demand,” said James Baros, Aquaculture and Sustainability Manager, NF&S.
To get the 824 farms certified to the Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) group standard the farms will be broke down into 35 subgroups, with each group having roughly 20 farms. These sub-groups are worked out geographically for farms sharing the same water source, explained Mr Baros.
This is the first time a project on this scale has been done, said Mr Baros.
The farms hoping to achieve BAP group certification are integrated mangrove forest shrimp farming systems where the shrimp are grown in harmony with natural mangrove forests and both help each other to thrive.
These farms therefore require no inputs, such as feed or medicines, other than the seeds which they receive from Minh Phu, as all the feed the shrimp need is produced naturally.
The shrimp seeds are stocked at very low densities of 5-7 pieces per square meter. This low stocking density also means there is very little chance of disease and the water quality is excellent.
Although the farms have low/no environmental impact, in order to become certified to the BAP standard the farmers will need to receive training on documenting each stage of the farming process, better harvesting and handling techniques, as well as improving sanitation on the farm and worker's facilities.
The data collection will first be done by log book and then will be moved to an electronic tablet or phone version which automatically sends the data to the cloud where it can be reviewed by NF&S, explained Mr Baros.
NF&S will therefore be giving farmers and members of Minh Phu - who will be carrying out farm inspections - all the education, training and equipment needed to meet the criteria.
Mangrove Protection Incentive
In the past many mangrove-shrimp farming systems have suffered mangrove forest destruction and illegal deforestation.
The BAP certification will of course require the protection of the mangroves, and inspections will be done to show compliance.
The shrimp farmers have also been given an incentive to protect the mangroves as the land is leased to them by the government for a period of 20 years. In order to keep this lease, farmers must ensure mangrove forest coverage remains at least at 60 per cent, with only 40 per cent shrimp, said Mr Baros.
NF&S has now started the project which will run over the next year. Once certified, the farms will be able to sell to international markets, including the US, marketed through Minh Phu.
Minh Phu will also pay farmers a small premium on the price they receive for their shrimp for participating in the programme, serving as an incentive for farmers to join the project and meet the programme requirements.