The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is consulting on changes to its upcoming Farm Standard, focusing on the key areas of fish health and welfare, and benthic impact.
The ASC is an independent, not-for-profit organisation co-founded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) in 2010 to manage the certification of responsible fish farming across the globe. Its new Farm Standard is intended to apply across all species of farmed finfish, crustaceans and molluscs. The consultation specifically aims to collect feedback on the practical impact and auditability of the suggested requirements.
The proposed fish health and welfare elements would require staff training and the use of operational welfare indicators (OWIs) as routine, to spot emerging problems and check whether stocking density is too high.
Fish Handling requirements for finfish are included which address operations that involve direct physical contact with the fish, including crowding and taking them out of their normal rearing environment.
The Fish Health and Welfare criterion will look at slaughter practices, with the aim of assuring that no fish suffers unnecessarily. Best practices in fish slaughter include the implementation of both stunning (preferably mechanical or electrical) and responsible killing methods. The Standard will require farms to eliminate the use of killing methods proven to be highly aversive to fish, such as asphyxia, CO2, salt baths, ammonia baths and evisceration. It will also make stunning compulsory by introducing it in a phased approach to account for current practices for different species.
Furthermore, ASC has laid out a series of requirements to guarantee that stunning and slaughter are effective, that backup systems are in place, and that staff are properly trained in welfare and slaughter practices.
To ensure the ecosystem surrounding the farm maintains its structure and function, farmers must regularly monitor the benthos (the seabed, for marine farms, but the standard will also apply to cages in freshwater lakes and brackish habitats).
With the support of a technical working group, ASC has developed a proposal which will ensure that benthic habitats are monitored and farms develop a thorough understanding of their impacts.
The new rules will impose a more stringent monitoring regime where initial analysis suggests that acceptable limits for impact have been exceeded.
The consultation runs from 1 September to 31 October 2022.For details, see www.asc-aqua.org/programme-improvements/aligned-standard/
Following the public consultation, ASC will collate all the feedback and prepare a synopsis for publication on the ASC website. Pilot testing of the ASC Farm Standard will begin in late 2022. The full ASC Farm Standard will undergo a final round of public consultation in September 2023.
Required changes, based on this consultation, will be made prior to presentation of the full standard to the Technical Advisory Group in January 2024. After approval by the ASC Board, the standard will be launched in April 2024.