- Aquatic Life Institute has recently launched the second edition of the Aquaculture Certification Schemes Benchmark.
- These schemes collectively certify, at minimum, 773 million fishes and 10.5 billion shrimps annually.
- For every $1 of funding received, we have potentially helped improve the lives of 5,423 fish and 221,343 shrimp directly through our engagement with these certifiers.
444: Four R's for Formative Change
In 2019, Aquatic Life Institute (ALI) embarked on a journey to reduce the suffering for trillions of aquatic animals in the global food system each year.
This past September, ALI established 4 Key Principles to help guide our interventions for systemic transformation in aquatic animal welfare that are used to filter organizational priorities:
- Reduce the number of animals in, or remove animals from, the seafood system and its supply chain.
- Refine the conditions in which animals are currently kept or captured in the seafood system and its supply chain.
- Replace animal products with sustainable plant-based or cell-based alternatives to the extent possible in the seafood system and its supply chain.
- Reject the introduction of additional animals into the seafood system and its supply chain.
In alignment with these 4 principles, we have worked with seafood certifications for years, building relationships and fostering change via our Certifier Campaign.
Between 51 and 167 billion farmed fish are produced annually from global aquaculture operations. Although there are examples of good welfare practices in aquaculture, the concept of what officially constitutes “humanely-raised fish” or a “high welfare seafood product” is still largely undefined worldwide by the public, industry, animal welfare organizations, and most governments.
As institutions certifying aquatic animal products begin incorporating positive welfare standards into their seafood labeling programs, they must diligently define high welfare products based on the best available scientific evidence rather than rely on subpar industry norms. “Humanely-raised” aquaculture standards must include more than just stunning before slaughter; they should consider animal welfare conditions throughout the stages of their lives in production. The farmed aquatic animals living in aquaculture facilities at any given time need to be prioritized.
Aquaculture standards must also account for additional aquatic animals not directly used for human consumption, such as animals reduced to fishmeal and fish oil ingredients, cleaner fish, and broodstock. Consumers turn to seafood labeling schemes for guidance to avoid purchasing products that conflict with sustainable and humane practices. More than 100 certifications and ratings programs of one type or another are currently in use by the seafood industry. This shift now means that 56% of all farmed seafood (including seaweed) is rated or certified, and volumes of certified farmed fish and shellfish constitute about 8% of global aquaculture production. The amount of certified aquatic animal products is only expected to increase. There is no evidence that certification will be phased out anytime in the near future, given consumers’ increasing demand for sustainable seafood and the absence of a better alternative. Some schemes are reporting notable growth and others are discussing the aggressive expansion of their operations to certify a greater number of seafood products in various regions.
However, many of these labels lack explicit considerations for positive animal welfare or fail to provide adequate protections. Through our Certifier Campaign, we aim to hold seafood certification standards accountable and highlight the schemes that provide the most robust aquatic animal protections. ALI’s existing certifier partners have the potential to positively impact over 5 billion shrimps and 13 million fish on an annual basis when measured conservatively at only 50% standard compliance. As such, a key intervention point is to ensure certification standards are continually enhanced and adequately address aquatic animal welfare. Our estimates are only based on publicly available data for which several certifiers currently do not list. Therefore, the quantity of certified seafood and subsequent number of individual aquatic animals impacted by certification schemes may be significantly greater than what we are approximating here.
In June 2022, ALI launched the first edition of a welfare-based, aquaculture certification benchmark tool that analyzed welfare requirements within the main farming standards of 6 global seafood certification schemes. Based on the results, we were able to craft certifier-specific recommendations in areas of welfare that were nonexistent, lacking in detail, or could advance into progressive points of novel development.
This year we launched the second edition of the Aquaculture Certification Schemes Benchmark tool that analyzed welfare requirements within the primary farming standards of 7 global seafood certification schemes. These schemes collectively certify, at minimum, 773 million fishes and 10.5 billion shrimps annually.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP), RSPCA Assured, Naturland, Friend of the Sea, GLOBALGAP, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) were evaluated and scored based on 5 main welfare criteria (water quality, stocking density/space requirements, environmental enrichment, feed composition, stunning/slaughter) each comprised of 4 sub-criteria points. We also included a species prohibition criteria topic where restrictions related to the farming of 3 different species (octopus/cephalopods, insects, and eyestalk ablated shrimp) are taken into account. The scoring process concluded with an “additional considerations” verification that indicates the presence or absence of enforcement and compliance, adequate employee training, and environmental impact regulations within their farming standards.
Reflecting on the 2023 Benchmark process, we were pleased to learn that certifiers are using their ranking as a marketing tool for aquatic animal welfare to promote themselves throughout the supply chain. Certifiers are also proud of their ranking, as seen in the ASC newsletter, which helps amplify ALI’s efforts to advance aquatic animal welfare. The increased interest and active competition to achieve higher scores are a driving component of the Benchmark that we can harness for the benefit of certified aquatic animals worldwide.
Our best calculations show that for every $1 of funding received, we have potentially helped improve the lives of 5,423 fish and 221,343 shrimp directly through our engagement with these certifiers. This approximation was based on ALI’s 2022 overhead expenses related to activities focused on strengthening certifier standards, the amount of time spent on these programmatic activities, and the number of individual animals certified by these schemes using available volume production and average harvest weight for different species they certify. Each certification standard improvement was awarded equal consideration in these calculations owing to the fact that we cannot definitively affirm which types of interventions provide specific levels of suffering relief from the perspective of individual aquatic animals at this time.
In 2024, we aim to further refine and organize these estimates based on region, species, welfare intervention, etc. ALI will continue to expand and deepen our leading work with global seafood certifiers. As we are already seeing significant improvements in these standards year over year, which reflect our exact recommendations following the release of the annual Benchmark, the projections for increased and efficient impacts on aquatic animal welfare are promising.
The 2023 species prohibition criteria topic is something we’d like to elaborate on further. Through ALI’s ongoing relationship building and pressure of the Benchmark rating, RSPCA Assured and Friend of the Sea now prohibit the certification of any form of octopus/cephalopod farming.
In November 2022, ALI implemented a global campaign that aims to increase public and legislative pressure on countries/regions where octopus farms are being considered to achieve a regulatory ban, and reduce future chances of these farms being created. We started Banding Together to Ban Octopus Farming. And in April 2023, we provided an update exposing the operation of an octopus farm disguised as a research center that was Hiding in Plain Sight. If permitted to operate, just one farm could potentially produce 1 million octopuses each year. In an attempt to dissuade future development of this unsustainable and cruel farming endeavor, ALI focused on the certified marketability of this potential seafood “product”.
Although there are obvious animal welfare concerns, resource use, environmental impacts, and public health concerns are also extremely present when analyzing an industrial octopus farm. ALI expanded on the aforementioned elements of aquaculture as priority points of intervention during conversations with certification schemes as a premise for prohibition. As a result, RSPCA published a statement denouncing plans for the world’s first octopus farm. Friend of the Sea provided us with a direct quotation explicitly stating they will not certify this species. If global seafood certifications refuse to create a “price premium” market for this product, perhaps this could serve as an indication to producers and investors that such products will not be welcomed or highly desirable within the seafood supply chain. These demonstrations of opposition are a testament to our attempts at rejecting a dangerous development before it is an industrial disaster and could potentially translate to the prevention of suffering for millions of animals.
Welfare Within the Supply Chain
The initiatives implemented through ALI’s Certifier Campaign and Benchmark will serve as tools to empower businesses in making informed decisions about sourcing from global certification schemes that prioritize and lead in aquatic animal welfare. Companies can effectively demonstrate their commitment to ethical sourcing, resonate with conscientious consumers, and strengthen their brand's reputation as a responsible and compassionate industry leader by sourcing from certification labels evaluated under this benchmark. Embracing the benchmark fosters supply chain resilience and promotes long-term sustainability, ensuring that companies contribute positively to animal welfare and the environment by reducing the number of animals, refining the conditions in which animals are currently kept or captured, replacing animal products with sustainable plant-based or cell-based alternatives to the extent possible, and rejecting the introduction of additional animals into the seafood system and its supply chain. We look forward to continuing this work to reduce the suffering for trillions of aquatic animals in the global food system each year.
“Numbers of Farmed Fish Slaughtered Each Year | Fishcount.org.uk.” Fishcount.org.uk, fishcount.org.uk/fish-count-estimates-2/numbers-of-farmed-fish-slaughtered-each-year
"Sustainable Seafood: A Global Benchmark - Certification & Ratings" https://certificationandratings.org/data-tool-2022/
Jonell, Malin, et al. 7 Certifying Farmed Seafood a Drop in the Ocean or a “Stepping- Stone” towards Increased Sustainability?
FAO. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. FAO, 2020.