Global Aquaculture Sustainability Standards completed for tilapia

Tilapia standards represent the first set resulting from the WWF Aquaculture Dialogues
December 23, 2009

Global Aquaculture Sustainability Standards completed for tilapia

WWF has finalized its Global standards addressing what it describes as the potential negative impacts of tilapia farming on the environment and society. These represent the first set of completed standards produced through the Aquaculture Dialogues, a series of roundtables coordinated by World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The standards are the product of the Tilapia Aquaculture Dialogue, a network of more than 200 people – including producers, conservationists and scientists – created in 2005 to help transform the aquaculture industry. Many of the participants are from the world’s leading tilapia producing regions, including Central America and Asia.

“With almost 75 percent of the world’s tilapia coming from a farm, instead of being wild-caught, the need for credible standards is critical and timely,” said Dr. Aaron McNevin of WWF, who coordinates the Dialogue and serves on its Steering Committee.

WWF said the standards will allow the tilapia industry to grow while minimizing its potential impacts, such as non-native tilapia being introduced and chemicals being released into the water.

“There are other tilapia standards on the market but these standards have staying power because they were developed by a broad and diverse group of experts through a very transparent process,” McNevin said. “The standards also will have a long shelf life because they are metrics-based, which is the only way to really know if the tilapia industry is reducing its environmental footprint.”

The certification costs will be low compared to most certification programs because the standards focus on reducing a set number of key impacts instead of a long list of issues. The relatively low cost will make it easier for small- and large-scale producers to adopt the standards.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), a new entity that will be in operation in 2011, will be responsible for working with independent, third party entities to certify farms that are in compliance with all of the standards created through the Aquaculture Dialogues process, including the tilapia standards. In the meantime, this role will be filled by GLOBALGAP, a private sector body that sets voluntary standards. GLOBALGAP will certify tilapia producers by supplementing its existing food safety, environmental and social requirements with the new standards. GLOBALGAP Is expected to begin offering this new certification option to tilapia producers in early 2010.

“We support the tilapia standards because they will help us tell our customers the story they want and deserve to hear – that they are eating tilapia which was raised in an environmentally friendly way,” said Craig Watson, Vice President of Agricultural Sustainability of Sysco Corporation, the largest foodservice distributer in the United States. “And with the ASC in place, we will have the assurance that the standards will be adhered to properly, which will bring credibility and longevity to the standards.”

The tilapia standards are based on almost five years of discussions and research, as well as feedback received from more than 50 stakeholders when the draft standards were posted for review. The steering committee that managed the Dialogue process used all of this information to develop the final product. The committee included representatives from Regal Springs Trading Company, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, New England Aquarium, Aquamar, Rain Forest Aquaculture and WWF.

“The end result of this process is a product our customers can be proud of because they know it is based on the best input from scientists, producers and NGOs,” said committee member Mike Picchietti of Regal Springs. “And the timing of it is perfect because the standards will allow the tilapia industry to grow without having a negative impact on the environment and society.”

The standards will be amended over time to incorporate new science and to encourage continuous improvement on the farm.

Through the Aquaculture Dialogues, standards for 12 aquaculture species will be created. The Dialogue process includes 2,000 people.The goal of the Dialogues is to follow the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance’s guidelines for creating environmental and social standards.

Read the standards and watch a video about them