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Consumer watchdogs disagree on farmed-salmon rating


June 27, 2017
By KT Pirquet

California-based Seafood Watch in June upgraded farmed salmon certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) to “Good Alternative,” which means ASC-certified salmon is now on Seafood Watch’s list of seafood it recommends to consumers.

 The updated recommendation will significantly increase the availability of sustainably farmed salmon in retail stores and restaurants, making it much easier for consumers to make an informed decision over the seafood they purchase, said Seafood Watch.

However, SeaChoice — a coalition of Canadian environmental groups — disagrees with Seafood Watch’s decision because the ASC salmon standard, on which the upgrade was based, has allowed some “variances” when applied on certain salmon farms.  For example, ASC allows British Columbia salmon farms to be certified with more than 60 times the number of lice permitted by the standard, said SeaChoice. In Chile and Norway, ASC has allowed variances in chemical and drug use on farmed salmon, such that this “far exceeds prescribed limits” in those countries, said the group.

“Allowing variances to meet the sustainability criteria undermines the salmon standard. SeaChoice does not recognize ASC-certified farmed salmon as a ‘Good Alternative’ equivalent for consumers because Seafood Watch did not review these variances in its benchmarking process,” said SeaChoice in a statement.

The group is asking ASC to no longer allow requests for variances so ASC can become a true gold standard for evaluating responsible aquaculture.

 The executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), Jeremy Dunn, said the ASC certification is recognized as the gold standard and most robust third-party certification available for salmon farms. “In BC our members are meeting that at a rate as fast or faster than anywhere in the world. Over 15 percent of our production is certified to that standard,” he told Aquaculture North America (ANA).

 Dunn said close to $200 million has been invested or committed over the last three years mostly in technology and practices that increase the overall performance of BC salmon farms on many of the metrics that ASC measures on. He said many have complimented and recognized the industry for these advancements, thus it is quite “unfortunate” that Sea Choice fails to recognize them.

 “The environmental organizations behind the Sea Choice program were so bullish on the ASC standard, and the Sea Choice program itself, when our members in BC were not able to reach that standard or were not recognized by that program. Their failing to recognize the advancements and innovations in salmon farming in BC is unfortunate,” he told ANA.

 Dunn said BC salmon farmers will continue their march to sustainability and to working with organizations that are recognizing the improvements that they are making in their operations.

Seafood Watch’s decision also had its share of support from salmon farming giant Cermaq. Upgrading ASC-certified farmed salmon to “Good Alternative” is important especially in the US market, where the ASC standard is less known than in Europe, it said.