Aquaculture for all

Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification

Technology & equipment

This feature is an extract taken from a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. You can view the full report by clicking on the link provided below.


Global production from aquaculture is growing substantially and provides increasingly significant volumes of fish and other aquatic food for human consumption, a trend that is projected to continue. Although aquaculture growth has potential to meet the growing need for aquatic foods and to contribute to food security, poverty reduction and more broadly to achieving sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals, it is increasingly recognised that improved management of the sector is necessary to achieve this potential.

Aquaculture is a highly diverse production sector comprising many different systems, sites, facilities, practices, processes and products, conducted under a wide range of political, social, economic and environmental conditions.

Aquaculture production and trade has increased, but concerns have emerged regarding possible negative impacts on the environment, communities and consumers. Solutions to many of these issues have been identified and addressed. The application of certification in aquaculture is now viewed as a potential market based tool for minimising potential negative impacts and increasing societal and consumer benefits and confidence in the process of aquaculture production and marketing.

Although aquatic animal health and food safety issues of aquaculture have been subjected to certification and international compliance for many years, aspects of animal welfare, environmental issues and social issues have not been adequately subjected to compliance or certification as a prerequisite for international trading. At present, the aquaculture industry and market increasingly recognize that credible certification schemes have the potential to reassure buyers, retailers, consumers and civil society regarding these concerns and provide a further tool to support responsible and sustainable aquaculture.


These guidelines provide guidance for the development, organization and implementation of credible aquaculture certification schemes.

The guidelines cover the range of issues which should be considered relevant for the certification in aquaculture including: a) animal health and welfare, b) food safety and quality, c) environmental integrity and/or d) social responsibility associated with aquaculture. An aquaculture certification scheme may address one or all of these issues.

There is an extensive national and international legal framework in place for various aspects of aquaculture and its value chain, covering such issues as aquatic animal disease control, food safety and conservation of biodiversity. Legislation is particularly strong for processing, export and import of aquatic products. Recognised competent authorities are normally empowered to verify compliance with mandatory national and international legislation. Other issues such as environmental sustainability and social responsibility may not be covered in such a binding manner and open the opportunity for voluntary certification as a means to demonstrate that a particular aquaculture system is managed responsibly.

Credible aquaculture certification schemes consist of three main components: (i) standards; (ii), accreditation, and (ii) certification. The guidelines therefore cover:

  • standard setting processes required to develop and review certification standards;
  • accreditation systems needed to provide formal recognition to a qualified body to out certification.
  • certification bodies required to verify compliance with certification standards.

Developing and implementing a certification scheme may be undertaken by any entity qualified to do so in accordance with the requirements of these guidelines. The entities that may undertake standard setting, accreditation, or certification include, inter alia, Governments, NGOs, private sector groups (e.g. producer or trade associations), civil society arrangements, or consortia comprising some or all of these different stakeholder groups, as long as there is no conflict of interest for any of the entities involved. The guidelines provide information on the institutional and organisational arrangements, including governance requirements, for aquaculture certification.


Direct users of these guidelines are entities that develop and implement (or are already implementing) a certification scheme for aquaculture such as: a) standard setting bodies, b) accreditation bodies, c) certification bodies, and/or d) an entity that is undertaking more than one of these functions, without having a conflict of interest.

These entities should use these guidelines in developing, implementing or revising certification schemes that seek to address any or all of the following issues: a) animal health and welfare, b) food safety and quality, c) environmental integrity, and d) social responsibility.

Indirect users of these guidelines are the stakeholders with an interest in certification schemes such as aquaculture producers and other parts of the aquaculture industry, as well civil society groups, government agencies, and other concerned parties (e.g. intergovernmental bodies, funding institutions). The stakeholders of a particular certification scheme will depend on the objectives of the scheme, e.g. geographic scope, production systems covered, issues addressed.


The guidelines should be applied by the direct users of the guidelines, (i.e. a standard setting body or entity, an accreditation body or entity, or a certification body or entity) to ensure that their efforts to develop and implement a certification scheme are in accordance with the principles, considerations, relevant minimum substantive requirements and institutional and procedural requirements in the guidelines.

Entities responsible for new and existing aquaculture certification schemes should undertake to assess, verify and document that these certification schemes have been developed and are being implemented in accordance with the guidelines. If there are deficiencies in the way an existing scheme was developed and/or in how it is being implemented, the entities responsible for the functions (i.e. standard setting, accreditation, or certification) should act accordingly to define and implement a corrective action plan. When this is completed, the entities should verify and document that the scheme is in accordance with the guidelines. There should not be any conflict of interest among the critics involved.

If the entities responsible for an aquaculture certification scheme do not provide credible assurance that the scheme has been developed and is being implemented in accordance with the guidelines, stakeholder groups (especially those being certified under the scheme) may use these guidelines to undertake an evaluation of the scheme themselves, or seek an appropriate body to do so. The evaluation would use these guidelines to assess whether a certification scheme is developed and implemented in accordance with the guidelines regarding, inter alia:

  • Whether the principles have been adhered to.
  • Whether the considerations have been addressed.
  • Whether the objectives of the scheme and issue areas have been addressed in accordance with the appropriate minimum substantive requirements.
  • Whether the standard setting, accreditation and/or certification have been developed and implemented in accordance with the institutional and procedural requirements.


Aquaculture certification schemes:

  1. must recognise the sovereign rights of States and comply with relevant local, national and international laws and regulations. They must be consistent with relevant international agreements, conventions, standards, codes of practice and guidelines.
  2. must recognise that any person or entity undertaking aquaculture activities is obliged to comply with all national laws and regulations and international agreements developed and agreed by governments in relation to aquaculture.
  3. must be developed based on the best scientific evidence available (or use meaningful proxies when such data is not available), taking into account traditional knowledge, providing that its validity can be objectively verified. They must ensure that shortterm aquaculture development considerations do not compromise the ability to responsibly address long-term concerns or cumulative impacts.
  4. must be developed and implemented in a transparent manner and must ensure that there is no conflict of interest among the entities that are responsible for standards setting, accreditation, and certification. These entities must facilitate mutual recognition, strive to achieve harmonization and recognise equivalence, based on the requirements and criteria outlined in these guidelines.
  5. must be open to scrutiny by consumers, civil society, and their respective organisations and other interested parties, while respecting legitimate concerns to preserve confidentiality
  6. must be credible and robust, be fully effective in achieving their designated objectives, and must establish and maintain the confidence of the farmers and industry operators participating in the scheme, as well as the confidence of other stakeholders, including consumers, governments and civil society groups.
  7. must promote responsible aquaculture during production, including the use of inputs such as seeds and feed, harvesting and post-harvest handling.
  8. must ensure traceability of certified aquaculture products and processes; promote continuous and measurable improvements in performance; and establish clear accountability for all involved parties, including the owners of certification schemes, auditors and the certification bodies, in conformity with international requirements, as necessary.
  9. must not discriminate against any group of farmers practicing responsible aquaculture based on scale, intensity of production, or technology; promote cooperation among certification bodies, farmers and traders; incorporate reliable, independent auditing and verification procedures; and should be cost effective to ensure inclusive participation of responsible farmers. must strive and encourage responsible trade, should not create uncessary obstacles to trade, and should facilitate market access.
  10. must ensure special considerations are provided to address the interests of resource poor small-scale farmers, especially the financial costs and benefits of participation.
  11. must recognize the special needs for developing countries, i.e. developed country importers should take into account the inadequate capabilities of developing countries and provide the necessary assistance with implementation.


National and relevant international organizations, whether governmental or nongovernmental, the aquaculture industry, and financial institutions should recognize the special circumstances and requirements of aquaculture producers and other stakeholders in developing countries, especially those in least-developed countries and small island developing countries, to support the effective implementation of these guidelines. States, relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, buyers and traders, and financial institutions should work to address these implementation needs, especially in the areas of financial and technical assistance, technology transfer, capacity building and training. Such assistance should also consider direct support towards the possible high costs of accreditation and certification.

Assistance is needed for building the capacity and enhancing the ability of stakeholders to participate in developing and complying with aquaculture certification schemes consistent with these guidelines. This includes ensuring that stakeholders have access to, and understanding of, these guidelines, as well as provisions of relevant international conventions and applicable standards that are essential for responsible aquaculture. Appropriate and up-to-date technologies may be required to comply with certification standards. Full benefit from such technologies would require extension, training, skill development and other local capacity building programmes for farmers and local communities and other stakeholders. Governmental and other institutions should support cooperation, especially at regional and sub-regional levels, in capacity building for developing and complying with aquaculture certification systems most suitable to their regions, and in the elaboration of mechanisms and protocols for the exchange of knowledge, experience and technical assistance in support of these objectives.

Different aquaculture certification schemes may be capable of meeting the same objective and are therefore equivalent. Memoranda of understanding, mutual recognition agreements, equivalence agreements and unilateral recognition may be developed for recognition of equivalence of aquaculture certification schemes, all of which need to include appropriate controls and verification of the certification systems involved. Tools and technical assistance may be required to ensure fairness, transparency and uniformity in developing equivalence agreements and monitoring that facilitates the development and implementation of aquaculture certification schemes consistent with the certification, accreditation and standards development procedures provided in these guidelines.

FAO will facilitate and monitor implementation of these guidelines on certification in aquaculture.

Further Reading

More information - You can view the full report by clicking here.

August 2008