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Mollusc Industry Representatives Move Forward with Aquaculture Certification

WASHINGTON, DC: The process for certifying mollusc aquaculture products - which make up one-quarter of the world's aquaculture production - was set in motion this month as producers, buyers, scientists and others interested in molluscs met in Oregon to discuss standards for an eco-label for oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.

More than 40 people, mainly from the Pacific Northwest, gathered for the first of four Mollusc Aquaculture Dialogue meetings to be held throughout the United States over the next seven months. The kick-off meeting was held in conjunction with the joint conference of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and National Shellfisheries Association Pacific Coast Section. Additional dialogue meetings will be held in North Carolina, Florida and Rhode Island - then overseas - to develop credible, voluntary standards for certifying mollusc aquaculture products by the end of 2008.

"Molluscan shellfish aquaculture provides a great target for certification," said Dr. Sandra Shumway of the University of Connecticut's Department of Marine Sciences. "It is sustainable, provides healthy food and positive ecosystem services, and enhances local economies. The mollusc dialogue provides a unique opportunity for industry members to work with WWF to identify key, measurable performance-based standards that will maintain and promote that sustainability. I am excited to be part of this progressive effort."

Meeting participants discussed the draft goals of the dialogue, which are to develop and implement verifiable environmental and social performance levels that minimize the potential negative effects of mollusc aquaculture, recommend standards that achieve these performance levels while permitting the shellfish farming industry to remain economically viable, and continue to promote the beneficial environmental and social aspects of shellfish cultivation. They also discussed potential dialogue objectives, including ensuring open and transparent dissemination of information between the stakeholders participating in the dialogue.

Issues related to mollusc farming - such as the transfer of diseases to wild caught species and harvesting techniques that harm critical habitat - were also on the agenda, given the goal of using the standards to minimize the negative effects of mollusc aquaculture.

The final list of goals, objectives and issues discussed at this meeting will be presented and amended, based on consensus, at future dialogue meetings.

"Shellfish aquaculture operates in complex and sensitive marine ecosystems," said Heather Deal, marine researcher for the David Suzuki Foundation. "The mollusc dialogue is an opportunity to determine the full range of potential impacts and then examine whether there are standards that could assure environmentally sustainable production."

Dialogue participant Jonathan Davis, director of research and development at Taylor Resources, Inc., agrees. "Certification of sustainable shellfish aquaculture practices will significantly enhance our ability to move ahead during a period of significant change for the industry. Developing better management practices has been a major industry focus over the last five years and contributing to the mollusc dialogue can certainly help move this process along by certifying practices that contribute to maintaining and improving near-shore marine environments in conjunction with continued production of shellfish and healthy, working waterfronts across the nation."

The mollusc dialogue is one of five dialogues initiated by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Dialogues for shrimp, salmon, tilapia and pangasius are underway and a dialogue for trout is expected to begin in early 2008. The first meeting pertaining to molluscs was held in 2004 but the dialogue was postponed until this year, due to delays in funding.

"Mollusc aquaculture is one of the best types of aquaculture in the world, given its low impact on the environment," said Jose Villalon, director of WWF's Aquaculture Program. "But there are issues that need to be addressed and we are looking forward to working with our partners to do this."

Each dialogue group is a network of producers, members of the market chain, researchers, non-governmental organizations, government officials, and investors. They use a transparent, multi-stakeholder process to develop the standards. WWF used a similar process to create standards for forestry, fisheries and agriculture certification programs.

For more information about molluscs and the WWF dialogues, go to www.worldwildlife.org/aquadialogues.