Science - August 30, 2012

'Label for farmed fish is good news'

Following the more established certification systems for wood and sea fish, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has introduced a consumer label for farmed fish. Farmed tilapia, catfish and shrimp that are given less feed and antibiotics will soon be for sale with this quality label.

Good initiative?
'Yes, broadly speaking this is good news', says researcher Simon Bush of the Environmental Policy chair group. 'Because aquaculture is generally seen as a polluting industry. The fish feed consists of fishmeal which is obtained by sea fishing. Also, large quantities of medicines are sometimes used to control diseases in the tanks, and this leads to pollution too. The ASC's criteria for fish farming will reduce the environmental impact significantly. This will have a big effect as almost 50 percent of the fish we consume is farmed, and the proportion is still increasing.'
Other certification systems such as FSC (wood) and MSC (fish) have been criticized by NGOs for criteria that are too lax and are not enforced properly in practice.
'People have learned from the experiences with those labels. The criteria were formulated through a thorough process involving all the stakeholders, starting with an Aquaculture Dialogue. So it is not just a label that supermarkets or NGOs have come up with. But you do also hear the criticism that the fish industry took over the leading role during the process and that the input from fish farmers was minimal. A weakness of all consumer labels is the social issues. These include not just child labour but also the question of whether the label privileges big producers and squeezes small fish farmers out of the market. The label does not include much sociology.'
Does the welfare of the farmed fish come into it?
'Animal welfare is less of an issue for fish than for other animals. That is reflected in the way this ASC label is presented. People don't talk about sustainable aquaculture but about responsible aquaculture. Is that the same as sustainable? Time will tell.'