Governance and Outlook — Seafish

Atlantic Salmon

Salmo salar

Governance and Outlook


Governance systems play an important part in ensuring environmental sustainability, and whilst these have evolved rapidly with the growth of the industry, there are differences between regions and countries. Poor governance can result in industry stagnation, the spread of preventable diseases, environmental damage and opposition to aquaculture activities by local communities and groups such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Key governance responsibilities are ensuring environmental assessment and decision making processes are in place for sensitive and coastal ecosystems, which help deliver sustainable aquaculture whilst managing possible adverse impacts. Other regulatory and governance aspects should cover aspects such as water abstraction and discharge, health monitoring, and so forth.

Four principles – accountability, effectiveness and efficiency of governments, equity, and predictability of the rule of law – are necessary for effective aquaculture governance. These principles should guide the administrative, legislative and regulatory framework of aquaculture. In addition to governments, other stakeholders such as communities, NGOs and producers should also be involved in the governance of the industry1.

Atlantic salmon farming is predominantly undertaken in three global regions; Europe, North America, and Latin America, and generally in economically advanced countries with good and/or improving governance structures in place.

Europe & Norway2
The shaping of regulations and the instruments for the development of and investment in most of the aquaculture sector in Europe falls under the European Union (EU). These regulations and instruments are highly evolved and are intended to stimulate and guide aquaculture development which is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. In non-EU member states (such as Norway) there are largely equivalent policies.

North America3

National and provincial/state governments in both Canada and the US have articulated strategies for the development of aquaculture in North America, and governance systems are highly evolved. The thrust of aquaculture development in Canada is focused on environmental sustainability. In the US, development is also geared toward sustainability with offshore expansion.

Latin America (Chile)4
Whilst concerns have been raised as to the effectiveness of salmon aquaculture governance in Chile5, 6, efforts to regain efficiency and environmental stability continue7 and stricter regulations are now considered to be in place8. The Environmental Regulation on Aquaculture Act (2001) requires the preparation of a ‘Preliminary Characterization of Site’ study, for the determination of the physical, biological and chemical parameters and variables of the project area. According to the General Law on the Environment (1994), the conduct of aquaculture is also subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Therefore, authorizations and concessions are issued through the EIA System.

In all salmon producing regions, the relevant authorities have licensing regimes, and salmon farming businesses typically need to obtain a site licence to operate9. Before a site license is granted an environmental impact assessment is often required. This will typically involve modelling the potential impact of waste faeces, feed and chemicals that may be dispersed from the farms. Licencing information relating to the big four Atlantic salmon producing countries is available, i.e.; Scotland - Fish Farm Consents10, Norway - Licence requirements in aquaculture11, Canada - Aquaculture Businesses and Licences12, Chile - Regulated Activities: Aquaculture13.

The global farmed salmon industry also has codes of practice and technical standards (such as those in Scotland14, 15), as well as independent 3rd party certification standards and industry initiatives which all aim to instil responsible and sustainable practice.


Farmed Atlantic salmon is increasing, with producers aiming to significantly raise, even double production over the coming years16, 17, 18. There is growing interest in utilising new technologies and practices to enable such growth; for example producing market size fish in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), moving net-pens to further offshore locations and/or using closed containment units19. Integrating production with other aquaculture species such as seaweeds and filter feeding shellfish (so called Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture, IMTA) is also being investigated20. How successful these new models will be remains to be seen.

The Global Salmon Initiative (GSI)21 is a leadership initiative set up by global farmed salmon producers. Its aim is to provide healthy and sustainable protein to feed a growing population, whilst minimising salmon’s environmental footprint, and improving its social contribution. Focus areas are biosecurity, standards, feed and nutrition, and improving industry transparency. The GSI was launched in 2013 and now has 13 members with operations covering eight countries. Currently representing over 40% of the global farmed salmon by production volume, GSI members have committed to achieving Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)22 certification across 100% of its farms.

Genetically Modified Salmon
In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US announced that a strain of genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon that reportedly grows faster than non GM strains of salmonids is safe for consumers23, and a facility has recently been approved for its commercial production24. The use of GM Atlantic salmon is not currently practiced or authorised in European producer countries and current market preferences in the UK suggest that it would be unlikely that GM fish would be accepted in the foreseeable future.


  1. FAO
  2. FAO
  3. FAO
  4. FAO
  5. Bustos-Gallarado, B., 2013. The ISA crisis in Los Lagos Chile: A failure of neoliberal environmental governance? Geoforum, 48, 2013. p196-206
  6. Salgado, H. et al, 2015. Stakeholder perceptions of the impacts from salmon aquaculture in Chilean Patagonia. Ocean & Coastal Management, July 2015
  7. FAO
  8. Reuters
  9. MOWI
  10. Scottish Government
  11. Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries
  12. Fisheries and Ocean Canada
  14. Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture
  15. Marine Scotland
  16. Fish Farming Expert
  17. Fish Farming Expert
  18. The Fish Site
  19. Nofima
  20. Institute of Marine Research, Norway
  21. GSI
  22. ASC
  23. FDA
  24. Seafood Source