Science - September 12, 2013

Quality label for farmed fish has limitations

Albert Sikkema

Not all consumers want more expensive farmed fish.
Certification is lagging behind in developing countries.

Almost 5 percent of the world’s farmed fish satisfies the ASC’s quality label for sustainable fish. This share can rise to 12.5 percent, which is the demand ceiling. This claim was made this week in Science by environmental scientist Simon Bush and his colleagues.
Fish farming is expanding rapidly worldwide. More fish are now being farmed in ponds on land and in coastal waters than are being caught wild at sea. However, this ‘blue revolution’ entails water pollution, ecosystem damage and worker exploitation. This has motivated companies and NGOs to jointly compile sustainability criteria in the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
Thirteen fish species, including salmon, tilapia and catfish, are now being sold with this label, but these sales account for just 4.6 percent of total sales for farmed fish. According to Bush, who wrote the article with colleagues in Wageningen and abroad, the potential demand for sustainably farmed fish in Europe, North America and Australia is about 12.5 percent of total production. Most of the remainder is sold in Asian countries where consumers are less interested in sustainably produced products.
Certification is costly
And sustainability must be able to generate additional market value, argues Bush, because producers incur extra costs when they strive to satisfy the ASC quality label. This isn’t the only limitation hindering wider certification, he believes. Many fish farmers in developing countries are not able to supply fish with a sustainability label because they are too small or have no international trade network. Certification is complex and costly and requires management that most fish farmers in southern countries are lacking, says the researcher.

Bush thinks that we can in­crease the quantity of sustainably produced farmed fish by using legislation and enforcement to compel developing countries to adopt sustainable production methods. He believes that international organizations must opt for a broader approach than quality labelling alone if they want to promote sustainability.