ASC quells criticism over controversial certification feature
December 18, 2020
By Liza Mayer
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ACS) has announced it will begin considering inputs from community stakeholders when reviewing requests for variances in the certification process.
ASC certification verifies that farmed seafood was raised in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. However, there are instances when ASC adapts its global certification standard to specific local conditions or situations.
Some take a dim view of the fact that adaptations are even allowed. One of these is the advocacy group, SeaChoice. In 2015, it criticized the ASC for certifying salmon farms in British Columbia as 100-percent compliant even if a farm’s sea lice levels are more than 60 times the number permitted by ASC in other localities. The watchdog viewed this as leniency on the part of the ASC.
But the ASC explained these adaptations – called “variances” – are a vital part of any credible global certification program. “Variances do not allow farms or auditors to weaken standards, but are intended to allow the ASC’s robust requirements to be applied in diverse situations, which cannot all be prescribed in one global standard,” it said.
In addition to seeking input from NGOs and the community when requests for variances are reviewed, the ASC said decisions about requests will also involve a technical analysis. The changes are part of ASC’s initiative to strengthen its Variance Requests process.
SeaChoice welcomed this decision, applauding ASC for heeding calls “to fix its flawed variance procedure.”
“Incorporating local stakeholder expertise, knowledge and concerns, as well as independent scientific input, into variance decisions was a necessary step for the credibility of the eco-label,” said Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from Living Oceans.
Meanwhile, the sea lice variances that were granted under the previous procedure remain in effect. A review of the sea lice variances is pending under the new procedure, said SeaChoice.