- Immunostimulants, probiotics and phage therapy: alternatives to antibiotics
- Designing a biosecurity plan at the facility level:
criteria, steps and obstacles
- Importance of host-viral interactions in the control of shrimp disease outbreaks
- Nutrition and shrimp health
- Practical feed mnagement in semi-intensive systems for shrimp culture
- Selective breeding of shrimp
- Better management and certification in shrimp farming
Better management and certification in shrimp farming
Towards responsible shrimp farming
During the last three decades, shrimp farming globally has grown rapidly from a very traditional, extensive culture operation to become a dynamic export oriented industry currently valued at more than $US 9.7 billion (FAO 2006). From a production of less than 900 thousand tonnes in 1994, in 2004 global production of cultured shrimp reached 2.5 million tonnes. This production was largely dominated by Asian countries which in 2004 made up 88% of the total production with 2.2 million tonnes and a value of US$ 8.3 billion. Production in China showed a notable 5.5-fold increase over the 5 year period between 1999 and 2004, going from 171 thousand tonnes to 936 thousand tonnes. A similar 5-fold increase was experienced by Vietnam, where production increased from 55 thousand tonnes in 1999 to 276 thousand tonnes in 2004 (FAO, 2006). The shrimp culture industry has been a major contributor to socio-economic development particularly in Asia, and for supporting the livelihoods of several thousands of people in poor coastal communities.
However, between 1980s and early 1990s, unplanned and unregulated mushrooming of farms around available water sources led to a series of negative impacts such as ecological degradation, mangrove destruction, socio-economic problems and salinisation of agricultural land and potable water. Aquaculture waste management became a serious issue. Poor availability of seed and the desire to explore the farming of exotic species prompted the movement of brood and seed between countries and regions. Although the potential consequences of such unregulated movements were not fully understood at the time, this practice led to the emergence and spread of serious viral diseases. Commencing in the late 1980s, a succession of previously unknown viral diseases emerged in farmed shrimp, in both Asia and the Americas, and spread rapidly across international boundaries to impact very significantly on production. Although some of these may have been the outcome of domestication and increased intensification, the movement of species and the cryptic nature of several virus in shrimp (i.e. viruses can go undetected in some shrimp species while causing major disease outbreaks in others) did play a major role in these pandemics. Outbreaks of various shrimp viral diseases (i.e. White Spot Disease, Yellow head Disease, and Taura Syndrome) have caused devastating economical damages to the sector worldwide. The direct and indirect impact of viral disease on shrimp farming is huge but difficult to quantify. It has been estimated that, during the period since 1994, annual losses globally due to disease, primarily caused by viral pathogens, have been as high as $US 3 billion (Lightner, 2003). Increased shrimp health problems have led to farmers using a wide variety of products and veterinary medicines. Most often because of limited experience and understanding of shrimp health management banned chemicals and veterinary medicines were sometimes used, posing threats to the health of consumers and leading to several restrictions being put in place by importing countries (Ababouch et al. 2006). Although there has been a marked recovery in recent years, disease remains a major concern for the sustainability and profitability of the industry and continues to impact significantly on the livelihoods of poorer, small-holder farmers.
Considering the great economic potential of commercial shrimp farming, several governments in the Asian region have identified shrimp farming as a thrust area under major focus for augmenting exports and earning the much needed foreign exchange. With rapidly increasing production, several issues and challenges over the sustainability of the sector began to emerge. Major challenges include environmental degradation and social conflicts related to the use and pollution of natural resources, sometimes leading to heavy mangrove deforestation, salinisation of agricultural land and eutrophication of sensitive aquatic habitats.
Over 88 percent of shrimp aquaculture production occurs in Asia, dominated by smallholder farmers, based on farmer owned, operated and managed systems. In most nations in Asia the contribution from aquaculture to the GDP has by-passed that from capture fisheries, and continues to be so. Asian small-scale aquaculture has the potential to meet the growing global demand for food fish and to contribute to the growth of national economies, at the same time providing support to sustainable livelihoods of many rural communities, contributing significantly to food security and poverty alleviation. The sustainability of the small-scale shrimp aquaculture sector is socially and economically important to many countries in Asia. However, with increasing impacts of globalization small-scale aquaculture farmers need access to scientific knowledge, financial and technical services and market information in order to sustain their livelihoods and compete in modern market chains.
In response to these concerns, efforts were initiated to develop a more sustainable approach to shrimp farming and to the fisheries sector in general. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) played a key role in this process. In 1995, FAO issued the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CoCRF), which set principles for the sustainable development of the fisheries sector. In 1999, FAO joined NACA, the World Bank, WWF and other partners to form a Consortium Programme targeted at exploring more sustainable approaches specifically for the shrimp farming sector. It is increasingly being recognized that shrimp health management is strongly linked with other aspects of shrimp farming sustainability and that all those aspects should be addressed to achieve effective shrimp health management. The process of achieving sustainable shrimp farming is depicted in Fig. 1.
Codes of Conduct, Codes of Practice and Principles for responsible shrimp farming
There is a great deal of knowledge now available on how to successfully farm shrimp, while improving the environmental and socio-economical sustainability of the farm operations and the safety of the harvested products. This knowledge is presently being used to address 2 key issues. The first concerns the development of generic principles for responsible and sustainable shrimp farming. The second issue is related to the “translation” of those principles into practice.
Figure 1. Diagram showing indicative steps to achieve sustainable shrimp farming (from Corsin et al., 2008).
Principles, often grouped into Codes of Conduct (CoC), represent the “philosophical basis” for the responsible production of a product. In 1999 a Consortium Program was established with the aim of developing principles for the responsible production of shrimp, following the guidelines of the FAO CoCRF and the experiences of the organizations involved. The Consortium was formed by a wide range of partners among which FAO, NACA, the World Bank and WWF were among the major, and UNEP joining it in more recent years. Benefiting from the knowledge available, from 35 complementary case studies conducted in more than 20 shrimp farming countries, and from several stakeholder consultations involving governments, private sector and non-governmental organizations, the Consortium Program developed the ”International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming: incorporating 8 principles (FAO/NACA/UNEP/WB/WWF 2006). In February 2006, the principles were endorsed by the 17 countries represented at the NACA Governing Council and in September 2006 they received global endorsement by the Committee on Fisheries, Sub-Committee on Aquaculture, making them the only internationally recognized set of principles for the responsible production of shrimp.
The development of practices for the effective implementation of the principles is a key step towards the sustainability of the shrimp farming sector. Several names have been used to describe these practices for sustainable shrimp farming, among others Better Management Practices (BMP) and Good Aquaculture Practices (GAP) are among the most used. The term “BMP” will be used in this chapter to define any set of practices that address broadly the sustainability of the sector, as GAP is generally used for better practices which are focused on food safety.
BMP are generally specific to the system and as such they focus on what a farming community can effectively achieve in a cost effective way. BMP should be simple, practical and applicable with minimum effort virtually by every farmer willing to do so. In doing so, they should address especially the needs of small-scale producers, not only because of their importance in the overall supply of shrimp worldwide but also to ensure that these more vulnerable players are not excluded from these efforts towards sustainability.
BMP should be developed for every link in the supply chain, from broodstock suppliers, to hatcheries, seed middlemen and farmers. Most sets of farm-level BMP developed for different farming systems address the following: pond location and construction; pond preparation; seed selection and stocking practices; pond management; pond bottom monitoring, water quality and shrimp health; biosecurity during production; record keeping; better management of health problems (especially concerning the responsible use of antibiotics and chemicals); better collaboration with other resource users. BMP also emphasise the advantages of establishing farmer groups and associations (in India known as aquaclubs) in order to share costs (e.g. for shrimp seed testing), improve water management, increase awareness on the health status of neighbouring farms and through the appointment of voluntary extension workers with the role of assisting BMP implementation by other farmers in the group.
The WTO-SPS Agreement sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. The demand for quality and responsibly produced and certified aquaculture products is predicted to increase substantially in coming years. Present market trends are imposing several constrains on small aquaculture farmers and the social and economic implications of current direction in many rural communities are expected to be potentially severe. It is in this context, development, validation and implementation of commodity specific BMPs for small holder farmers of Asia-Pacific is timely and appropriate.
Better Management Practices
Better Management Practices (BMPs) in the aquaculture context outline norms for responsible farming of aquatic animals. In aquaculture, better management practices have been developed largely for shrimp and salmon aquaculture, although some efforts are presently being made to develop BMPs for other aquatic commodities (e.g. tilapias, catfish, molluscs or eels). BMPs are aimed at improving the quantity, safety and quality of products taking into consideration animal health and welfare, food safety, environmental and socio-economical sustainability. BMPs are management practices, and implementation is generally voluntary; they are not a standard for certification. However, implementation of BMPs will help to achieve compliance with standards set by international agencies and trading partners.
The broadest principles for sustainable aquaculture are provided by the Code of Conduct of Responsible Fisheries (CCRF). The Code has been the basis for the development of more specific principles. The ‘International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming’ provide an international framework for improving the sustainability of the shrimp farming sector (FAO/NACA/UNEP/WB/WWF 2006). Better management practices (BMPs) have been developed and used in several countries to put into practice the more general principles of responsible shrimp farming. In alignment with the International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming, BMPs are designed to support small producers to (a) increase efficiency and productivity by reducing the risk of shrimp health problems, (b) reduce or mitigate the impacts of farming on the environment, (c) improve food safety and quality of shrimp farm product, and (d) improve the social benefits from shrimp farming and its social acceptability and sustainability (Mohan et al. 2008).
Developing and implementing BMPs to respond to disease and sustainability concerns is not easy and straightforward. A good understanding of international agreements and standards, national regulations, concept of biosecurity and disease causation are essential. BMPs to respond to disease should embrace the concept of aquatic animal health management in its entirety and focus attention on three critical points: preventing entry of pathogens to production systems (e.g. farms and hatcheries), preventing proliferation of pathogens in the culture system leading to outbreak of diseases (e.g. management of farm level risk factors to avoid occurrence of conditions leading to an outbreak) and preventing spread of pathogens, should an outbreak occur.
Biosecurity is a set of standard scientific measures, adopted to exclude pathogens from the culture environment and host and, when considered more broadly, the term “biosecurity” covers also practices that limit the establishment and spread of pathogens, therefore coinciding with health management. Once harmful pathogens enter and become established (endemic), it becomes practically impossible to keep them out of the farm, especially in open farming systems. Some concepts vital for ensuring biosecurity are identification of pathogen entry routes, quarantine and screening of hosts introduced to the farm, disinfection at defined critical control points, and identification of risk factors for disease outbreaks. At the farm level, every operator would like to implement a biosecurity plan. However, the extent to which the principles of biosecurity can be applied strongly depends on the type of culture system (e.g. open, closed, partially closed). Applying principles of biosecurity in small-scale, extensive or semi-intensive, open farming systems is difficult. The fact that these systems, which are characterised by little, if any, control over pathogens or carriers entering the farm, dominate Asian shrimp production shed some light on the challenges experienced by Asian producers.
According to epidemiological theory, a disease will occur only when there is a sufficient cause. Especially in the case of infectious disease, a component of the sufficient cause is the presence of the pathogen, which is necessary for the disease to occur (necessary cause). Unless the necessary cause is also sufficient to cause the disease, the presence of the pathogen alone will not make the animal sick and cause an outbreak. Several component causes (also called risk factors) along with the necessary cause are essential for the disease to occur (Thrusfield 1995). By using epidemiological approaches it is possible to identify pond or farm level risk factors for disease outbreaks. Intervention strategies can then be developed to minimize or eliminate such risk factors and reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. Better management practices (BMPs) in a broad sense are such plans to manage disease at the farm level. Epidemiological approaches for identifying pond or farm level risk factors for disease outbreaks (e.g. WSD in shrimp) are becoming more popular in the development of aquatic animal disease prevention and management strategies (Corsin et al., 2005a; Corsin et al., 2005b; Padiyar et al., 2005)
Better Management Practices (BMPs) have been developed based on published scientific information, epidemiological studies to identify disease risk factors, empirical observations and successful industry practices, and provincial, national and international regulatory requirements (Mohan et al. 2008). BMPs have been developed to provide guidance at all stages of the production cycle from hatchery operation to pond bottom preparation and water management prior to stocking, seed selection and stocking, and post-stocking management of ponds. A critical aspect of the introduction of BMPs has been the role of farmer groups and their effective linkage to the public sector (Mohan et al. 2008). Provision of science-based information to farmer groups through effective networking and communication is an important key to success (Corsin et al 2007b).
As a part of NACA’s regional initiative to control aquatic animal diseases, ongoing initiatives in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are developing and validating effective extension approaches (e.g. concept of cluster farming) to promote widespread adoption of BMPs that include concepts of farm level biosecurity, disease causation, health management and sustainability.
Case Study: India and beyond
Since the early 1990s, the Indian shrimp aquaculture sector has been hard hit by viral diseases. To address rising concerns about the effect of diseases on the sustainability of the sector, the Government of India’s Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) with the technical assistance of NACA and the support of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) initiated a programme in 2000 on “Shrimp disease control and coastal management”. The programme started in 2001 with a large epidemiological study aimed at identifying the risk factors for key shrimp diseases. It also undertook to develop and disseminate BMPs to minimize farm-level risk factors for disease outbreaks and to address shrimp farming sustainability more broadly. The programme, which is now in its 9th year, was implemented in a phased manner (Mohan et al 2008). Some of the key stages of the programme included:
- 2000: A baseline study of the major diseases affecting the shrimp aquaculture operations
- 2001: A longitudinal epidemiological study in 365 ponds in Andhra Pradesh, east coast of India, to identify major risk factors associated with WSD and low productivity in Penaeus monodon culture ponds
- 2002: Development of farm level contextualized BMPs to address the identified risk factors
- 2002: Pilot testing of BMPs in selected farms
- 2002: Production of a simple and practical shrimp health management manual based on the outcomes of the risk factor study and piloting of BMPs, to support farm and village level extension programs
- 2003-2004: Development and testing of the concept of cluster farming for effective BMP adoption amongst farmers in a cluster, and expansion of BMP promotion to a large number of clusters
- 2004: Extension of some of the BMPs to downstream activities like hatcheries
- 2005: Review and refinement of BMPs, and production of BMP extension leaflets for each stage of the culture operation
- 2005-2006: Expansion of the BMP programme to clusters in five different states in India involving 28 farmer societies (clusters) with 730 farmers covering an area of 813 ha
- 2006: Conceptualization of an institutional framework for sustaining the BMP and shrimp health extension programme
- 2007: Establishment and inauguration of the National Center for Sustainable Aquaculture (NaCSA) to carry forward the MPEDA/NACA programme activities
- 2008: NaCSA promoting farmer group formation and wider BMP adoption. NaCSA has formed 215 societies (clusters) with 5455 farmers covering an area of 6788 ha
This project is unique because up until then only a limited number of field studies had been conducted on this scale and, of these, only few used an epidemiological approach. This project showed the value of epidemiological studies for understanding the pond or farm level risk factors for important diseases and the practical value of findings from such studies to develop contextualized interventions in the form of BMPs to address the identified risk factors. The key BMPs developed and implemented in the project are:
- Good pond/water preparation- The soil should be checked for the presence of black layer and it should be removed from the pond. Water should be screened at the water inlet point to avoid entry of virus-carrying fish and crustaceans, which may be a predator or competitor for shrimp. Water depth of at least 80 cm should be maintained in the pond.
- Good quality seed selection- Seed is best purchased through a contract hatchery seed procurement system where all the group farmers purchase quality seed for whole group.
- Water quality management- Basic water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen, pH and Alkalinity must be maintained at optimum level. Water exchanges only when felt necessary and during critical periods.
- Feed management- Efficient use of feed. Demand feeding using check trays and feeding across the pond using boat/floating device. FCR must be kept below 1:1.5.
- Pond bottom monitoring- The pond bottom soil should be monitored on a weekly basis, especially at the feeding area or trench for black soil, benthic algae and bad smell and corrective actions should be taken.
- Health monitoring/Biosecurity- No draining or abandoning of disease affected stocks. Farmer groups are encouraged to discuss common actions that can be taken during disease outbreaks to avoid spreading of disease from one farm to another.
- Food safety- No use of any harmful/ banned chemicals like pesticides and antibiotics.
- Better Harvest and post-harvest Practices- Quick harvesting, chill killing of harvested shrimp and quick transport to processing plant.
- Record maintenance/Traceability- Maintenance of hatchery/ pond management record book by hatcheries and farms to identify problems in the tank/ pond environment and to rectify these problems at the earliest during the production cycle. This is also required for traceability purpose.
- Environmental awareness- Improved environmental awareness about mangroves, pollution and waste management among farmers.
The outcomes ranged from improved shrimp yields, less impact on the environment, improved product quality, and better relations among players in the market chain. In short, the society formation and or organization of small scale farmers into groups facilitated the adoption and implementation of the BMPs providing benefits to the farmers, environment and society. As a result of the cluster approach, and hence adoption of BMPs, shrimp production in clusters increased from 4 t in 2002 to 870 t in 2006. Implementation of simple, science based farm level plans (e.g. BMPs) and adoption of cluster farming through the participatory concept reduced disease risks in cluster farms significantly. The organization of small scale shrimp farmers in India has (a) empowered small-scale farmers, (b) increased stakeholder interaction and involvement within the clusters, and (c) is an ideal model for small scale farmers to meet market requirements, a model accepted by many Asian countries and being increasingly adopted. The model is of a self propagating nature and most of all it is contributing to sustainability of shrimp farming in India and indeed in the region.
Although BMPs are often simple farm level plans to prepare for and respond to disease, their systematic adoption by farming communities and countries to manage shrimp health problems and to achieve widespread sustainable shrimp production has a relatively recent history. The MPEDA/NACA project has the distinction of being the first program moving in this direction in the region. Since then, this approach towards sustainability has been adopted by several countries and it is expected to spread to many other countries in the Asian region.
Vietnam has used the ‘International Principles’ to adapt legislation and to develop its national program towards better management of shrimp farming. In addition to supporting the development of the International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming, projects were initiated to translate the principles into practices, which targeted better production, product quality and environmental and socio-economic sustainability. Among the government’s initiatives to promote a more sustainable development of the sector was the project that supported coastal aquaculture which demonstrated the private and social benefits of adopting BMPs. In 2003, NACA and the Ministry of Fisheries (MOFI; currently merged within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development- MARD) with the support of the DANIDA-funded Fisheries Sector Program Support (FSPS) began implementing a project to support the promotion of responsible shrimp farming at all levels and for all links in the production chain. BMPs were developed for broodstock traders, hatcheries, seed traders and farmers. Focus was given to the development of simple and practical BMPs, which addressed the needs of less resourced small-scale farmers. Ten sets of extension material were developed and disseminated in close collaboration with the MARD. Benefits of BMP application in Vietnam were visible from the early stages of its implementation. Farmers complying even with only two recommended practices - testing of seed for White Spot Syndrome Virus and removal of sludge before stocking - reduced the risk of crop failure from 61.0 % to 47.8 %.
In Indonesia, BMP experiences from India were used in the rehabilitation of the shrimp farming sector in the Province of Aceh, Indonesia, following the 2004 tsunami. A practical BMP manual was prepared during 2006 based on the International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming and the manual has been widely promoted and used by various agencies involved in assistance to rehabilitation of livelihoods in Aceh. The results from practical implementation are also promising, with similar outcomes of reduced disease risks and improved productivity in traditional shrimp farms compared to farmers not adopting better practices.
As described above, recent years have seen rising concerns on the sustainability of shrimp farming globally. These concerns referred to a number of sustainability issues regarding not only food safety but also the environmental and social effect of shrimp farming. Destruction of sensitive coastal ecosystems (e.g. mangrove areas) in addition to the social sustainability of the industry has often been questioned.
In an attempt to demonstrate that at least some shrimp farms operate responsibly and/or that products are safer to eat or of better quality, a number of certification schemes and initiatives for shrimp aquaculture were developed. These efforts spearheaded a number of similar efforts for the certification of several other aquaculture commodities (e.g. tilapia, catfish, salmon etc.).
There are a number of slightly differing definitions of the term “certification” which have been produced by a wide range of organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), FAO, Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), etc. However, generally certification refers to the procedure through which an independent body provides assurance (most commonly written) that a product or process conforms to specified requirements (e.g. standards). ISO also uses the term “conformity assessment” for certification (see below).
Certification can be either mandatory, e.g. as required by government authorities or bilateral agreements, or voluntary. In this chapter we will cover only voluntary certification as mandatory certification is most often aimed at ensuring the safety of shrimp products.
The key steps in certification consist of:
- Identification of the process through which the standards are developed
- Standard development
- Accreditation of certification bodies
- Inspection of enterprises to assess conformity to the standards
- Issuance of certification
- Marketing of certified products or products from certified farms
These steps are generally coordinated by a standard holding organization, i.e. an organization which “owns” the standards.
Development of the process through which the standards are developed
Equally important to the actual standards used for certification is the process through which the standards are developed. This has been recognized by several key organizations. The ISEAL Alliance defines itself as the “global hub for social and environmental standards systems”. ISEAL Alliance is a membership-based organization which promotes the development of social and environmental standards following proper procedures and its members therefore show commitment to the development of standards following the ISEAL Code of Good Practice, a reference document for the development of standards. Members of ISEAL include key certification schemes such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO), International and Social Accountability International (SAI). At present, the only certification scheme for shrimp aquaculture which is an associate member of ISEAL is the WWF-lead Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue. ISEAL Code of Good Practice (www.isealalliance.org). According to the ISEAL Alliance, stakeholder should have a chance to contribute to developing the process (and not only developing the standards) through which the standards are developed. This would ensure that the process does not favour any stakeholder groups and therefore it is likely to generate a credible and robust output.
Through a multistakeholder process which started in 2007, FAO is also developing technical guidelines on aquaculture certification. These are meant to provide an overarching document that guides standard setting and standard holding bodies during the development of standards, accreditation and certification. Although the FAO guidelines are yet to be finalized, they also emphasise the need for transparency and multistakeholder involvement from the early start of standard development.
The ISO also produced guides for the development of standards (e.g. ISO/IEC Guide 7), although these focus more on the contents of the standards for their use in conformity assessment (certification) rather then on the development of the process through which standards should be set (see below).
Some standard setting organizations do not develop and discuss openly the process through which the standards will be developed. Most often, the process to develop standards is decided on and revised during the process of standard development. Although this is not an ideal situation, this is often done in response to the requests of the stakeholders involved in standard development and, as such, revisions to the process are often accepted if not welcome.
When a process for the development of standards has been agreed, the standards are then developed following the agreed process.
During earlier stages of shrimp certification, standards were developed by individual organizations or by a limited group of experts (e.g. GAA). Although these efforts were ground breaking as they highlighted the importance of environmental and social sustainability, they were also criticized, especially by NGOs, as “green washing”, i.e. giving the false impression that farms are sustainable (green) while in reality they are not.
In response to these concerns and attempting to follow also international guidelines (e.g. ISEAL, FAO etc.), increasingly open processes were used to develop standards. Broader and more transparent consultation with stakeholders was introduced by several certification schemes although most often these changes are not sufficient to satisfy e.g. ISEAL requirements. In addition, attempts to take into consideration the challenges by small-scale shrimp farmers were also made, primarily exploring the option of farmer group certification. Because of the need for broader stakeholder involvement, standard development has now become a lengthy process which takes most commonly years to be completed.
Standard development does not stop with the finalization of standards. Standards are often revised regularly. ISEAL provides clear guidelines for the process of standard revision which, similarly to the development of standards, should also allow for the contribution of all the stakeholders involved.
Standards can be developed to cover different areas of shrimp farming sustainability. Most commonly standards tend to cover environmental and social sustainability and/or food safety. Some schemes address also animal welfare, although those are more common for finfish rather than for shrimp.
Standards most commonly begin addressing shrimp farming only, although some schemes have also developed standards for shrimp hatcheries and processing.
Standards can also be differentiated between product and process standards. Product standards are standards that are applied to characteristics of the product. On the contrary, process standards are applicable to processes through which products are produced. Although mandatory certification, e.g. to satisfy trade agreements, is often focused on product certification (i.e. ensuring that the product being traded follows certain characteristics), voluntary certification is most commonly based on process standards, which therefore refer to how the shrimp (product) are produced rather than on actual characteristics of the shrimp. Process certification of course is expected to have also close links with quality attributes in the shrimp, although those may or may not be measured directly. It is important to point out however that process or product certification are separate from the actual labelling of products packages (see below).
Accreditation of certification bodies
Once the standards have been developed, they can be used to assess whether farms are compliant or not. A critical question concerning certification is on what entity has the necessary capacity to certify for a given set of standards. This decision is generally taken by the standard holding organization, although organizations such as ISO prefer not taking charge of the accreditation (and certification) process, although clear guidelines are set and their application is encouraged.
It is generally recognized that certification bodies should be accredited only if they are in compliance with the ISO/IEC Guide 65:1996 General requirements for bodies operating product certification systems. However, in limited cases (e.g. GAA) this is not a requirement for accreditation of a certification body.
Normally, a standard holding organization will accredit more than one certification body, although again there are exceptions to this, e.g. GAA accredited a single certification body, i.e. the Aquaculture Certification Council, which however operates through a wide range of certifiers.
A departure from the above process is represented by Naturland, as Naturland accredits inspectors and not certification bodies, keeping the right to issue certificates through its Naturland certification committee (see below).
Inspection and certification
Accredited certification bodies are responsible for conducting farm inspections (or audits) to assess whether farms are compliant to a given set of standards. Auditing sheets are used to conduct audits in a more structured way. Although each certification scheme uses their own auditing sheets, some certification schemes (i.e. GlobalGAP and GAA) are now moving towards harmonizing auditing procedures. Although this does not imply any degree of equivalence between the standards, this process of audit harmonization would remove potential overlapping and make auditing for more than one scheme easier and possibly cheaper (http://www.intrafish.no/global/news/article239422.ece).
The entity in charge of conducting inspections is generally also in charge of issuing certificates on behalf of the standard holding organization. However, in some cases, e.g. Naturland, inspectors are only in charge of conducting inspections and forwarding inspection results to the Naturland certification committee, which is in charge of deciding whether a farm should become a Naturland member or not.
The above discussion refers to 3rd party certification as this is by far the most common form of certification in shrimp farming. Third party certification consists of certification conducted by an organization which is independent from the producer and the buyer/consumer of a product. There could however be also instances of 1st party certification, in which farmers declare compliance to a set of standards or 2nd party certification, through which a buyer states that the product is in compliance with a given set of standards.
It is worth noting that the inspection and certification process is often recognized by many as one of the most expensive steps in certification (in addition of course to the actual changes required to reach compliance to the standards). This is often due to the fact that certification bodies charge relatively high (international) daily rates which many individual shrimp producers (especially smaller-scale ones) cannot afford. For this reason several certification schemes and researchers have been exploring options for group certification and some of these (e.g. Naturland) have significantly reduced the cost of certification to be paid by each individual farmer.
Marketing of certified products or products from certified farms
Once a farm has been certified for conformity to a given set of standards, relevant claims can then be made. In these terms, certification schemes can be divided into two categories: Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumer (B2C) certification. B2B refers to schemes in which the information on whether a product is certified or coming from a certified farm is available only to businesses trading the product and not to the consumers. GlobalGAP uses a B2B approach to certification. Most commonly however, the information on whether a product is coming from a farm compliant with the scheme is available to the consumers on the product package, leading to B2C certification. Although this allows consumers to preferentially buy certified products and in some instances to pay premium prices for those products (i.e. for organic shrimp), ISO states that labels should not be used on a product unless as part of a product certification scheme. In fact, it is argued that labelling of products that are not following any given set of standards (as standards are applicable to the process, i.e. to the farming practices adopted) is misleading the consumers.
Throughout the whole process of marketing of products from certified farms it is essential that a system of traceability (or chain of custody) is put in place to ensure that no mixing with un-certified products takes place. All the main certification schemes applicable to shrimp include a system of traceability. In cases in which certification is applied not only at the farm level but also at the processing plant level (e.g. GAA, Naturland), processing of certified products only in certified processing plants is often required.
Review of certification schemes for shrimp
There are several certification schemes either already been implemented or under development. Here only the main schemes will be considered, although other schemes will also be briefly presented.
It is important to note that there are several similarities between the different shrimp certification schemes. Most of them are generally claiming to target sustainable or responsible shrimp farming, as stated in the Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming, some other set of principles or a Code of Conduct. Most of them are based on “translating” sets of BMPs or GAPs into standards. All seem to require legal compliance as a minimum and of course include a number of additional requirements. Fig 2 shows the relation between principles, BMP/GAP, legality and voluntary certification standards for shrimp farming.
Global Aquaculture Alliance (www.Gaalliance.Org and www.aquaculturecertification.org)
The Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) is a non-profit trade association founded in 1997 and aimed at promoting sustainable aquaculture. As part of their efforts they developed the first ever set of standards for shrimp aquaculture (and more recently also for tilapia and channel catfish). In fact, through its Responsible Aquaculture Program the GAA developed the Guiding Principles for responsible aquaculture and 10 Codes of Practice for Responsible Shrimp Farming which are aimed at providing guidance in the development of regional and national codes in addition to advising more responsible practices for farm operators. In addition, GAA coordinated also the development of the Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) standards.
BAP standards have been traditionally developed by species-specific technical committees. However, responding to the demands for broader consultation by several stakeholders, especially NGOs, in 2008 GAA introduced a Standards Oversight Committee (SOC) which is in charge of directing the drafting of the BAP standards by the technical committees and reporting to the GAA board of directors, who are in charge of approving the standards. At present the SOC is chaired by GAA and composed by a total of 12 people which include representatives of producers, buyers, NGOs, government and academia. Before finalization BAP standards are also distributed for public comments. Although BAP standards are said to “strive to be consistent with the relevant international guidelines” such as the ones set by FAO and ISEAL, so far compliance to such guidelines appears to be incomplete, primarily because of the limited transparency, multistakeholder involvement and alleged conflicts of interests arising from the lack of independence between different players in the scheme (e.g. standard developers, standard holders, etc.).
The process of certification to assess conformity to the BAP standards is entirely under the responsibility of the Aquaculture Certification Council (ACC) which is in charge of training, accrediting and contracting auditors/certifiers. In early 2009 GAA and GlobalGAP agreed to harmonise their auditing procedures with the objective of reduce the auditing burden on producers.
Figure 2. Diagram showing the relation between principles, BMP/GAP, legality and voluntary certification standards for shrimp farming
At present standards are available for shrimp hatcheries, farms and for seafood processing plants. Standards cover food safety issues in addition to environmental and social responsibility and to a lesser extent welfare (concerning primarily predator control).
According to the ACC website there are:
- 9 groups certified 3-star, i.e. with certified hatchery, farm and processing plant (all for shrimp)
- 10 groups certified 2-star, i.e. with certified farm and processing plant (majority for shrimp)
- 13 certified shrimp hatcheries
- 49 certified shrimp farms
- 73 certified shrimp processing plants
- 5 certified shrimp repacking plants
A key achievement of the GAA/ACC scheme has been the broad market recognition obtained initially in the USA, but also on some European markets. Top retailer Wal-mart and other important seafood players such as Darden Restaurants and UK-based Lyons Seafood have all declared their commitment to products produced in compliance with BAP standards.
In December 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also announced that the GAA/ACC will be one of the participating agencies included in a pilot program aimed at increasing the safety of imported farmed shrimp (http://seafoodbusiness.com/index.asp?ItemID=3961&rcid=197&pcid=196&cid=197%0A%0A%0A%0A%0A).
Formerly known as EurepGAP, GlobalGAP is a private sector organization which began with setting standards for agriculture production and gradually expanded its reach also to the aquaculture sector. The program was initiated by a group of retailers (Eurep), who were seeking harmonization of their requirements from producers. The work of GlobalGAP is governed by a Board which oversees the work of Sector Committees, who decide upon sector specific issues. All committees are said to be composed by 50% retailers and 50% producers and suppliers representatives. The activities of the Board and of the Sector Committees is supported by FoodPLUS GmbH, a non-profit company which operates as GlobalGAP secretariat.
The GlobalGAP Integrated Farm Assurance standards have a nested structure. In fact, all GlobalGAP certified farms, regardless of whether these are crops, livestock or aquaculture farms, need to comply with an All Farm Base module. Then, there are 3 farm-type specific modules for crops (Crops Base), livestock (Livestock Base) and aquaculture (Aquaculture Base). All aquaculture farms, regardless of whether these farm salmonids or shrimp need to comply with the Aquaculture Base, although this module is slightly different for shrimp farming or other aquaculture farms. Within each “base module” there are species-specific modules. The Shrimp module (nested within the Aquaculture Base) contains standards specific for shrimp farming. Standards for shrimp were set following broad consultation with industry, NGOs and government. Standards were published in April 2008 after two public consultations and 6 trial audits conducted in 3 countries. The standards were then updated in January 2009. In response to the need for a stronger social component within the standards, a set of Social Criteria for shrimp farming was also incorporated in the standards and is required for GlobalGAP compliance and certification. This was developed with extensive input from social NGOs (e.g. Oxfam Novib). At present GlobalGAP standards for shrimp deal with a broad range of sustainability issues ranging from food safety to environmental and social responsibility and shrimp welfare.
The overall nested structure of GlobalGAP allows farm audits for different agriculture or aquaculture commodities to be conducted through a single audit. However, this also leads to a relatively long list of control points. In addition, the governance of the standards is partially removed from the stakeholders directly involved, as for shrimp stakeholders to make changes e.g. to the All Farm Base module, these have to be agreeable also by crops and livestock stakeholders.
In addition to production standards, GlobalGAP also requires compliance to its Chain of Custody standards, which are aimed to ensuring the traceability of certified products. GlobalGAP developed also standards for compound feed manufacturers. GlobalGAP also offers a benchmarking service, which allows for other certification schemes to be recognized as equivalent to GlobalGAP.
The process of certification is conducted by one of the several certification bodies accredited by GlobalGAP, all of which are also compliant to ISO Guide 65. Although there are 25 certification bodies listed on the GlobalGAP website as approved for the All Farm Base module, there are only 6 bodies approved for the Aquaculture Base. These are located in Europe (3) and one in each New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay, therefore none of these is located in any significant shrimp producing country. As mentioned above, GlobalGAP has agreed with GAA the harmonization of their auditing procedure.
As per March 2009 there were no reports of GlobalGAP certified shrimp farms although GlobalGAP reported interest from Latin America and Indonesia and buyers’ demand for certified products from Vietnam and Thailand (Valeska Weymann, pers. comm.).
A major advantage offered by GlobalGAP is the outstanding commitment to the scheme received by buyers, primarily in Europe. This is largely a reflection of the large retailer/buyer involvement in the establishment and governance of the scheme. Although the demand for GlobalGAP certified products seems to be outstanding, compliance to the standards is still limited because of the demanding requirements and the lack of premium prices for certified products. The later is most likely a reflection that GlobalGAP is a B2B scheme, meaning that consumers cannot distinguish between certified and non-certified products by looking at the product package.
Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue (www.worldwildlife.org/shrimpdialogue)
Building on the work conducted as part of the Consortium Program between 1999 and 2006, which led to the development of the Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming, in 2006 the WWF initiated the Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue (ShAD), a process targeted at the development of standards for shrimp aquaculture. The ShAD is the only shrimp aquaculture scheme which is compliant to the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for standard development. As such it is based on an extensive process of stakeholder consultation which is coordinated by a Global Steering Committee (GSC) composed by representatives within the 3 Regional Steering Committees (RSC), one each for Asia, Americas and Africa. RSC are in charge of coordinating the process at the regional level in order to take into account region-specific issues and make sure key regional stakeholder are contacted. The GSC is charged with the responsibility of unifying the outcomes of the 3 regional processes into a set of standards applicable to all shrimp farms regardless of the region, although it may include species-specific differences.
ShAD standards are expected to be finalized in 2010 and will cover primarily environmental and social issues.
The ShAD is concerned only with standard development and not with standard holding or the accreditation and certification processes. In early 2009 the WWF announced a plan for establishing the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), a new standard holding organization where to house the ShAD standards, in addition to standards from other Aquaculture Dialogues. Once established, the ASC will most likely be in charge of both accreditation of certification bodies and standard revision.
The establishment of the ASC received a lot of interest from the media and other organisations. Some NGOs called for a halt to WWF efforts to establish the ASC, although their opposition appears to be towards all forms of shrimp certification and not the ASC specifically (http://www.intrafish.no/global/news/article239814.ece). On the contrary major seafood players such as Marine Harvest declared their support for the ASC (http://www.intrafish.no/global/news/article238972.ece).
A survey conducted by the seafood news agency Intrafish to assess what aquaculture certification scheme will prevail showed overwhelming support for the ASC which as for February 2009 led the race with 74% of the votes, against GAA/ACC and GlobalGAP which received only 18% and 8% of the votes respectively (http://www.intrafish.no/global/news/article240263.ece).
Although the process for developing ShAD standards is recognised by many as the most credible and transparent process available, this is perceived by others as rather lengthy (i.e. at least 4 years) and costly, since the process requires extensive consultation and outreach with stakeholders located throughout the world.
Thai Code of Conduct/Good Aquaculture Practice program (www.thaiqualityshrimp.com)
The aquaculture production sector in Thailand is dominated by small-scale farmers in coastal and inland areas. In fact, of the 33,411 shrimp farmers in Thailand, there are an estimated 28,399 (85%) farmers classified as “small-scale”, with less than 1.6ha of farm area, contributing significantly to rural income and employment. Since shrimp is a major export fishery commodity for Thailand and in response to challenges in the production and marketing of shrimp products, the Thai government developed a national initiative to promote Farm-to-Table improved quality through a voluntary “Code of Conduct (COC)” and “Good Aquaculture Practice (GAP)” for responsible shrimp farming. With the assistance of the World Bank the COC program was launched in 1998 to improve farming sustainability and food quality. Under this project the Department of Fisheries (DOF) began implementing a monitoring and certification program of aquaculture product. The program was initially focused on shrimp and was gradually expanded to other aquaculture species.
The COC standards provide for a certification process for all operators throughout the supply chain and address a variety of issues including the use of feed, veterinary drugs and other chemical products. GAP compliance targets practices of small-scale farmers and is less comprehensive. GAP can be defined as those practices necessary to produce high-quality products conforming to food safety requirements. In 2004, the Q-Mark label was introduced for products that are produced in compliance to COC throughout the supply chain (i.e. from hatchery to processing).
DOF is in charge of all the aspects of standard development, inspection and certification of establishments and DOF has in the past expressed interest towards the establishment of an aquaculture certification body accredited to ISO/IEC guide 65.
As per 2007 data Thailand had 125 and 149 COC-certified shrimp hatcheries and farms respectively. In addition, most of the shrimp hatcheries and farms in the country (i.e. 1,061 and 20,437 hatcheries and farms respectively) were reported to be GAP certified (Corsin et al., 2007a).
Recent analysis suggests that the GAP and COC are in conformity with importing requirements of EU markets, although retailers and buyers require compliance to additional requirements and standards, hinting that the COC program is not sufficient to satisfy the market needs. In addition, despite the success of the government of Thailand in bringing shrimp producers under the COC/GAP program, the ability of Thai shrimp farmers to improving their marketability and receiving premium prices remains largely undocumented. Nevertheless, the Thai COC/GAP program remains arguably the most successful government-promoted certification initiative for shrimp farming.
Naturland – Association for Organic Agriculture is arguably the organization most involved with organic shrimp aquaculture. Naturland started in 1982 in Germany, working primarily on the organic certification of agriculture products and gradually expanded to aquaculture, fishery, forestry and other industries such as textile productions. Naturland is a grassroots farmer organisation, whose members are certified as compliant to the Naturland standards. In 2008 there were approximately 50,000 farmers working within 190 cooperatives. Of these, only a minor part deals with aquaculture production, including shrimp farming (Corsin et al., 2007a) although Naturland organic shrimp farms are reported to be located in several countries (i.e. Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Viet Nam, Thailand, and Indonesia) and the organic certification of shrimp and other forms of aquaculture is said to be expanding.
Naturland is also a certification body within the framework of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), although it is not accredited for the aquaculture scope. In fact, Naturland standards for aquaculture are a scheme by its own, operating outside the IFOAM framework.
Naturland standards have been developed for both production and processing of organic products. As Naturland’s primary focus is said to be the sustainable use of ecological, social and economic resources, standards cover all these aspects in addition to shrimp welfare. Similar to other organic schemes, Naturland requires that all the inputs, including feed, are from organic sources. As shrimp can be produced under extensive conditions, with the only addition of fertilisers, some of the certified shrimp operations (e.g. in Vietnam), do not use any feed throughout the production cycle.
Naturland certification is obtained following the inspection of the farm. Inspections are generally conducted by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) although other organisations can be used to perform inspections. Certificates are however issued directly by the Naturland Certification Committee, based on the inspection report.
Naturland certified products are allowed to carry the Naturland logo on the product package, therefore making it a B2C scheme. Certified products face better prices which are said to be reflected throughout the supply chain including the farmers.
Although Naturland has been criticised by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNV) for its inability to address the necessary sustainability issues and for the fact that allegedly some certified farms did not appear to be in compliance with the Naturland standards, Naturland has been considered by some as one of the highest ranking certification schemes in terms of sustainability (WWF 2007).
Other certification schemes and initiatives
There are a number of other certification schemes for shrimp farming which are arguably less popular than the ones mentioned above. In addition, there are also labelling and other sustainability initiatives which are also worth covering for their relevance to responsible shrimp farming. These will be briefly summarised below.
Friend of the Sea (www.friendofthesea.org). Friend of the Sea (FotS) is a not-for-profit organisation funded in 2006 with the objective of conserving marine habitat and resources. FotS claims to be the main seafood scheme in the world, although this statement has been opposed by several stakeholders. As per March 2009 there were 9 suppliers of tropical shrimp certified as compliant to FotS standards. Interestingly certification can be given to importers and not necessarily to producers. According to the FotS website, the over 600 certified products can be purchased in 26 countries. The whole scheme has been opposed by several stakeholders, especially NGOs, because of the poor multi-stakeholder involvement and transparency of the program.
Government supported schemes. In addition to, and in some cases largely inspired by, the Thai COC/GAP program several governments in the Asia region have developed government-supported certification schemes. Examples of such schemes can be found in China, where there is also a ChinaGAP scheme similar to GlobalGAP, and the Vietnamese CoC/GAP/BMP program which, although starting in 2004 with promising results it is now limited to few pilot sites.
Label Rouge (www.poultrylabelrouge.com). Label Rouge is a government supported program that was developed by French poultry farmers in the 60’s. The program focused on free range production and quality of poultry products. The program was gradually expanded to other commodities. At present there is only one Label Rouge certified producer, based in Madagascar. Label Rouge is widely recognised on the French market and products are generally fetching premium prices.
Brazilian Association of Shrimp Producers. In 2003 the Brazilian Association of Shrimp Producers (ABCC) developed a Shrimp Quality Guarantee scheme which is based on compliance to Codes of Conduct and Good Practices (WWF 2007). The scheme covers food quality and safety, health management, environmental issues, workers’ welfare and other social issues. Codes of conduct were produced for all steps of the supply chain including feed manufacturing. The ABCC scheme is not a 3rd party certification scheme, being mostly consistent with a 1st party system.
Safe Quality Food (www.sqfi.com and www.fmi.org). Safe Quality Food (SQF) is a scheme managed by the Safe Quality Food Institute, a division of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), a US-based organization with 1,500 food retailers and wholesaler members. There are two sets of SQF standards, SQF-1000 for producers and SQF-2000 for processing plants. Standards are largely based on the application of HACCP to farming and processing, therefore it is strongly focused on food safety aspects. Although there appear to be no SQF certified shrimp businesses, the program operates in shrimp farming countries (e.g. Vietnam) and is applicable to shrimp. Although the scheme is owned by FMI, the market demand for SQF certified products seems to be still relatively limited.
Fairtrade (www.fairtrade.org.uk). Fairtrade is a scheme based on the standards produced by The Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). Fairtrade is an ISEAL-compliant scheme which deals with both labour issues and challenges faced by small-scale operations, in addition to including considerations for environmental sustainability and food safety. Although FLO has repeatedly engaged with stakeholder in the Asian region to develop and pilot FLO standards for shrimp farming, at present the scheme does not cover shrimp and is primarily focused on agriculture production. Nevertheless, discussion seems to be still ongoing and FLO’s involvement in shrimp farming in the near future cannot be excluded. Fairtrade products are widely recognised on the market place, especially within Europe but also in the USA and Oceania and it offers premium prices throughout the supply chain.
International Organization for Standardization (www.iso.org). The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a network of the national standard setting institutes of 159 countries. In spite of the strong engagement with governmental institutions, ISO is an NGO as the members do not represent their countries within ISO, but come only in their capacity as experts. Since 1947, year of foundation of the ISO, the organisation produced over 16,000 standards and guides. Among those there are a number of standards that are applicable to the shrimp farming sector. The most relevant of these are ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 families of standards targeting quality and environmental management respectively, and ISO 22000 which concerns the management of food safety. In addition, ISO is also developing a ISO 234 standard specific to the fisheries and aquaculture sector. At present, it would appear that the number of ISO certified shrimp farms is at best very limited (Corsin et al., 2007a).
Organic: International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (www.ifoam.org). The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is a grassroots umbrella organisation which since the early 70’s has grown to include 750 organic organisations in 106 countries. In addition to promoting organic farming broadly, IFOAM also developed ISEAL-compliant standards for organic farming. Standards, which include a chapter specific to organic aquaculture, are so called “standards for standards”. As such, they provide a framework for certification bodies and other standard-setting organisations to develop their own organic standards which are then considered compliant to the IFOAM standards. At present the number of IFOAM compliant farms appear to be limited. However, the establishment in 2008 of a Thai national organic certification body operating within the IFOAM framework and the organic certification of some shrimp farming groups, with shrimp facing up to 30% premium prices, witness the growing interest for this scheme (http://www.intrafish.no/global/news/article167537.ece).
Organic: Soil Association. The Soil Association is a UK-based organisation that promotes organic production. Through its Aquaculture Standard Committee, the Soil Association produced also standards specific to organic shrimp farming. Conformity to the standards is assessed by the Soil Association Certification Ltd. The Soil Association focuses its activities in the UK, where most Soil Association producers and consumers of Soil Association products are located and there appear to be no records of certified shrimp farms.
Organic: Governmental organic schemes. Governments, primarily in Europe but throughout the world, have been developing organic standards primarily to ensure that consumers are not misguided into buying improperly labelled organic products. Like may other government-based schemes these standards are generally applicable only to the producers within the country. Among the many programs it is worth mentioning the EU organic standards, which came into effect in January 2009 and are aimed at harmonising requirements for organic production and trading within the European Union, and the recent developments coordinated by the Thai Department of Fisheries and discussed above.
Seafood guides. Although not true certification schemes, it is worth mentioning also the several examples of seafood guides which have been produced by a wide range of organisations (primarily NGOs) such Monterey Bay Aquarium, WWF, Seafood Choice Alliance, Green Peace etc. These guides are aimed at providing consumers with a simple tool to assess the sustainability of seafood products. Most often these guides use a traffic-light approach, categorising commodities into green (acceptable), yellow (look for an alternative) or red (avoid). Although sometimes criticised for putting all producers into the same “bucket”, these guides have received wide acceptance by consumers in different European countries and in the US and increasingly also in Asia. Tropical farmed shrimp are generally categorised as red because of the impact on habitats (mangrove habitat destruction), use of chemicals etc. Responding to retailers’ requests some organisations (e.g. WWF) have initiated projects to identify more sustainable sources of farmed shrimp while continuing supporting efforts towards the development of farm-level standards (e.g. through the Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue).
Costs and benefits of certification
There are two main independent reviews of aquaculture schemes. These were produced both in 2007 by the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission (APFIC) together with FAO (Corsin et al., 2007a) and by WWF Switzerland and Norway (WWF 2007). Although neither of these cover specifically shrimp farming, both deal with schemes applicable also to shrimp aquaculture. The APFIC/FAO review was aimed at assessing the costs and benefits of different schemes with the objective of informing APFIC governments on the current status, challenges and opportunities of certification. On the contrary, the WWF review was aimed at providing some sort of comparison between different schemes, with the objective of identifying the best certification options currently available.
The APFIC/FAO review concluded that:
- Compliance to the standards most often comes at a cost to farmers although it is likely to lead to some benefits throughout the supply chain.
- There is no hard evidence that compliance to many of the certification standards currently available does indeed lead to improved sustainability
- The cost of inspection and certification is generally very high for individual businesses
- Most certification schemes do not offer premium prices, with the exception of organic schemes
- Group certification is an advantage for small-scale producers but does not justify certification unless this brings either premium prices or improved market access
- The amount of certified products available in the market is still very small although interest is growing
- In view of the rising demand for fisheries products and the marketability of un-certified products, farmers may seek certification only if responding to a clear market demand (e.g. from the buyer)
The WWF review of certification schemes concluded that most of the aquaculture certification schemes reviewed has significant shortcomings and lacked an effective and credible regulatory framework. It also stated that none of the standards reviewed was in full compliance with the pre-set criteria.
It is now widely recognised that the implementation of better management practices in shrimp farming can bring significant profits both in terms of improved production and increased product quality. For this reason the implementation of BMPs should continue being promoted.
As highlighted above, most existing certification schemes are characterised by a number of shortcomings. To overcome those and truly lead to measurable benefits to the environment and society it is important that efforts claiming to address the sustainability of the shrimp farming sector (e.g. development of certification schemes) are conducted through multi-stakeholder processes that operate through consensus and are based on measurement of performance, rather than using a prescriptive approach.
At present, compliance to certification standards most often includes externalities for which farmers do not appear to get recognisable benefits (e.g. in terms of premium prices or improved market access). In addition, most certification schemes appear to largely exclude small-scale producers because of the applicability of the standards and for the significant costs of certification. It would therefore appear that most often the cost of certification outweighs the benefits, although compliance to the actual standards may lead to sustainability benefits that should be further explored. It is however true that producers globally are increasingly attracted by certification. This is probably a reflection of the fact that certification may indeed lead to improved market access, if not to premium prices. In fact, retailers globally are increasingly expressing their commitment to sourcing sustainably produced products. In this context, demonstrating compliance with sustainability standards may indeed become essential to the viability of shrimp farms. Watch this space!
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