ASC Salmon Standard draws criticism

The new Salmon Standard published by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council has weakened protection for wild salmon against sea lice, according to campaign group SeaChoice.

The ASC is one of the leading certification bodies for responsibly farmed seafood. Its new Salmon Standard, published this week, includes revised measures for reporting and managing sea lice in farm sites.

SeaChoice is a Canadian-based organisation set up to promote sustainable seafood and to persuade consumers to avoid seafood from unsustainable sources.

It says the ASC’s decision to recognise limits on sea lice numbers set by regional regulators, rather than a global maximum allowed limit, will in some cases substantially weaken the impact of the standard.

Kilian Stehfest, SeaChoice representative from David Suzuki Foundation, said: “Over the past decade, sea lice outbreaks on farms have worsened and drug resistance has accelerated, while regulations and enforcement are either insufficient or non-existent. This should be reason enough to tighten sea lice requirements. Instead, the certification scheme’s decision to default to local laws means it no longer pushes industry to do better. It supports the status quo and the serious risk to wild fish populations that represents.”

Kelly Roebuck, SeaChoice representative from the Living Oceans Society, said: “During the consultation phase of the sea lice revision, multiple conservation groups argued that the ASC must go beyond mere government regulations to remain a credible and meaningful certifier.

“Unfortunately, the ASC did not heed the calls of the conservation community. There is nothing ‘responsible’ about placing juvenile wild salmon at risk.”

SeaChoice says that in some cases, under the new standard, farms could retain their ASC certification even if sea lice numbers greatly exceeded what was allowed under the global limits, which were based on Norwegian regulations.

‘Misinterpreted’ criticism

The ASC argues that SeaChoice has misinterpreted the new Standard, which was developed in the light of advice from the ASC’s expert Technical Group (TG).

A spokesperson for the ASC said: “The previous limit of 0.1 mature female sea lice was based on Norwegian legislation in effect at the time of initial standard development and was proposed by the Salmon Dialogue as the global reference point. Interdependencies related to other factors such as geographic region, sea lice species and wild salmon species were not fully assessed at the time. The TG has reviewed the potential of a global limit over regional limits and concluded that too many factors vary significantly to determine a credible global limit. As a result, the recommendation was given to use existing metrics as set by the regulators in the understanding that these are based on available solid regional research and data. Several regions do not have metric limits set, for these regions the ASC Standard defines the limit.

“We believe that to effectively evaluate the robustness of a standard, one must look at the combination of the various requirements on a topic rather than judging a metric in isolation. The revised ASC Salmon Standard (v1.4) significantly improves the control mechanism once the metric limit is reached or exceeded.”

The TG recommended that, given the need for proper lice control, strict measures are applied in case farms do not reduce lice levels below the threshold limit within 21 days after exceedance. This timeline is far stricter, the ASC says, compared to the regular non-compliance timeline, and if it not achieved requires the CAB (Conformity Assessment Body) to cancel the certificate.

The ASC said: “This new requirement is the most severe action the ASC can require, and as such sends a strong message to the industry to manage lice levels in a responsible manner.”

The ASC added that the Standard remains subject to a “regular and informed review process”.

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