Responsibly Farmed Seafood: A Taste of Things to Come

A small corner of Nicaragua’s Lake Apoyo was once dedicated to a tilapia farm. But when some fish escaped, these non-native species wiped out one of the lake’s vital food plants. As a result, the whole ecosystem collapsed and the farm closed, just five years after it had opened. It has taken a decade for the lake to begin to recover.

The tragedy of Lake Apoyo exemplifies the devastating impact unsustainable fish farming can have on the environment. It also highlights the challenge of maintaining natural resources while trying to feed the planet’s growing population.

When done responsibly, fish farming—also known as aquaculture—presents a solution to meeting the increasing food demand of a growing global population. Farmed seafood already accounts for more than half of all the fish and shellfish we eat. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the greatest increase in seafood production will be from the aquaculture industry, given that much of the world’s marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished.

So the question is not whether aquaculture is a viable option to feed the planet, but rather, how can we do it responsibly?

Change in the Water

Just a couple hundred miles northwest of Lake Apoyo, there is a very different kind of tilapia farm. At Regal Springs’ Aquafinca farm in Honduras, fine mesh cages prevent fish from escaping. The water’s chemical composition is continually monitored to ensure oxygen and nutrient levels remain stable. Strict guidelines are followed to maintain the fishes’ health and welfare, reducing the risk of disease and need for antibiotics.

“Our philosophy has always been to have a business that is sustainable for the long-term in an environmental and social sense,” said Martin Sukkel, Regal Springs’ Chief Operating Officer. “If we screw up the water, we’re screwing up our own farming environment. If your horizon is five or ten years, you may not care—but we want to be here indefinitely.”

Regal Springs is committing to action in all of its global operations. It is the first company to achieve Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification for its operations in Indonesia. ASC certification verifies that production practices comply with measurable standards for responsibly farmed tilapia. Now certified, fish from Regal Springs’ four farms – which together produce nearly six per cent of tilapia traded globally —will bear the ASC label.

Better Choices

With the launch of ASC-certified tilapia in the marketplace, retailers now have the ability to offer their customers the best environmental and social choice in farmed seafood. More choices in ASC-certified farmed seafood are expected in the next six to eight months. The ASC manages global standards and certification programs for 11 other farmed seafood species, including shrimp and salmon.

Through the Aquaculture Dialogues, WWF has worked with stakeholders across the farmed seafood supply chains to develop and implement standards to reduce the potential negative environmental and social impacts of aquaculture production. With these new standards, WWF is actively engaging with farmers across the globe to make the changes in production protocols necessary to become compliant, and pursue ASC certification.

WWF has identified farmed shrimp and salmon as priority commodities—with the greatest potential for negative impact on the places and species WWF seeks to protect. Today, we are involved in aquaculture improvement projects with pangasius in Vietnam, shrimp and tilapia in Indonesia, shrimp in Ecuador and salmon in Chile to ensure that all of us have better choices in farmed seafood.