Principles of responsible aquaculture

There are some general principles that apply to any aquaculture farm or site and the work that is done there.

General rules for aquaculture businesses

Following these rules helps make sure farm activities are undertaken responsibly and any potential impacts are reduced as much as possible. They include:

  • Having all the required permissions and licences that relate to the farm, its operations and its management, up to date and regularly checked. The exact permissions and licences a farm needs will be determined by the relevant authorities in the country where the farm is located.

  • All buildings and structures that make up the farm – for instance, the ponds or cages, the feed and chemical stores, and so on - should be well designed and kept in good condition. If this is done, the farm’s stock is grown in suitable, safe conditions. Pests which can infest a farm are kept to minimum. Predators that could prey on the stock are deterred from coming onto the site, and if they do, they aren’t killing as a means of controlling them. Also items that are used regularly, like feed or chemicals, are stored correctly and safely.

  • Unwanted materials and wastes the farm might produce – from veterinary treatments keeping the stock healthy, through to packaging feed is delivered in – all need to be managed carefully. They need to be contained, processed, used or removed. Whichever option is chosen, it needs to be done in such a way that it minimises any potential effects on the environment.

  • Generally farms use very young, very small aquatic organisms (such youngsters are often called ‘seed’) to re-stock their ponds or cages, and so begin the growing cycle. This seed should come from hatcheries (facilities that specialise in producing young organisms) that are trusted and sell good quality, healthy youngsters. If a farm uses seed taken from the wild, it should only use it if the wild population it comes from is healthy and well-managed.

  • If the farmer is raising aquatic animals that need to be given feed, such as salmon or shrimp, then the so called ‘aquafeed’ a farmer uses should be the best available. Ideally the ingredients in these aquafeeds – such as fishmeal, or plant crops such as soy – should come from sustainable sources.

  • The farm should have controls in place to make sure the welfare of the animals being reared is kept to the highest standards it can be. A qualified vet should be on call if they are needed.

  • The team that works on the farm should be well-trained, dedicated, and led by a good manager. All staff must be treated with respect and get fair and proper wages for their efforts.

Aquaculture certification schemes

There are many global, regional and national programmes trying to educate farmers and encourage more responsible and sustainable aquaculture. Alongside these are a number of independent schemes that promote the best way to farm seafood.

Until relatively recently, these schemes focused on reducing environmental impacts, but they are increasingly setting standards for stock and worker welfare. A farm that reaches these standards can be certified - this then helps show other farmers and the people that buy harvested fish or seaweed just how responsible that farmer is.

Some of the most important aquaculture certification standards are those from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (Best Aquaculture Practices) and Global G.A.P Aquaculture.