An Analysis of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Standards for shrimp aquaculture

The third edition of the Consumers’ Guide to Shrimp Certification with an Analysis of the ASC Shrimp Standard is being reviewed by people around the world:

Consumers Guide to Shrimp Certification–V4A-Review

This is an advanced draft for review. Excerpts from the Guide:


Fiction vs. Reality

A reply to the ASC’s response to criticism of its Shrimp Aquaculture Standard

On Principle 1

Criticism on Principle 1: The reference to the national law is weak. Often quality of national regulations is lacking as well as enforcement.

Reality: As a basic starting point, any farm seeking ASC certification must comply with national and local laws and be legal in the region where it operates.

The ASC knows what needs to be done. This was never in doubt. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to do it.

Our criticism was directed at their approach to finding a solution:
  • The ASC did not seek out inputs from people who understood local and national environmental laws.
  • They did not attempt to compile a set of documentation that the auditors would use as a reference, documentation that would include:
    • Applicable environmental laws, and permits/documents that could be accepted as indicators for compliance
    • Applicable land-usage laws and acceptable permits/documents etc.
    • Applicable company law and acceptable permits/documents etc., to establish definitions of terms like “farm”, “business” and so on.
  • Given that a checklist or reference documentation did not exist, the did not require that their auditors have appropriate qualifications in these matters.
  • The audits of farms were conducted by people unqualified to determine if a farm was compliant under Principle 1.

How not to create a shrimp standard — Where the ASC went wrong.

The tremors and aftershocks of tropical aquaculture can be felt across the social, economic, environmental and cultural web of life—human rights, consumer rights, indigenous peoples rights, land and water use, agriculture, environmental law and conservation, labour rights, marine and coastal ecology, soil science, social science and traditional fisheries.

Simply put—one cannot describe the impacts of aquaculture in a sentence.

In the early 1980s consumers were told that eating certified farmed tropical shrimp “helps develop local economies by bringing in much needed export-led profits.” This was not true; the economic consequences of destroying mangroves and building shrimp farms are quite clear now—it is better to create sustainable, diverse, small-scale economies than to grow shrimp for export.

The environmental and consequences are clear too—island and coastal communities that had conserved their mangrove forests escaped the destruction of the tsunami in 2004—the mangroves absorbed the impact of the tidal waves. Islands that had destroyed their mangroves did not survive.

Ten years later, today, consumers are being re-told the same old story—eating “certified” shrimp will help small-scale farmers earn a livelhood. That it is now possible to enjoy tropical shrimp without being racked by the guilt of destroying the environment.

The same old story is appropriate to the same old falsehood: “certified” or “labeled” shrimp today is exactly the same as the shrimp that was sold to you ten years ago.

ASIA was invited by the Stockholm Society of Nature Conservation to present research findings from data collected over the past ten years on the subject of shrimp aquaculture.

View the presentation here: Pres–SSNC–HNTCS–ForDistributionandReview

Presentation notes: SSNC-HNTCS–PresentationNotes(Edited–GH, AKT)

Consumers’ Guide to Shrimp Certification, 3rd Edition: Consumers Guide to Shrimp Certification–V4A-Review


Open letter to the GSC of the WWF Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue

4th May, 2011

Dear ShAD/GSC members,

 After careful and considered reflection on the draft standards and the whole WWF-ShAD (Shrimp Aquaculture Dialogue) process, we the undersigned Conscientious Objectors — NGOs working with local communities in the shrimp producer-nations and consumers in the shrimp-importing nations — have unanimously decided that we cannot support the ShAD General Steering Committee (ShAD/GSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) intentions or actions towards establishing standards for shrimp aquaculture certification. Many others who have added their names and organizational affiliations to our list have also joined us in our protest.

 We must therefore continue our course to speak out publicly and campaign against the intent and the process that WWF-ShAD has endeavoured to undertake. The historical record and scientific evidence both indicate that certification will do much harm to both Local Resource Users and the coastal marine environment. The following reasons stand out among many others as indicators that we COs must continue to strongly oppose the ShAD process and the intended ASC and organize a wider resistance against ShAD and other shrimp certification schemes in both Europe and the USA:

  1. There has never been involvement nor representation in WWF-ShAD’s so-called dialogue process for the majority of stakeholders or, more aptly, the Local Resource Users who are adversely affected by the shrimp industry in producer nations. ShAD’s “stakeholders” are overwhelmingly those invested in the growth of the shrimp-export industry.
  2. With each revision to the draft, the standards and their evaluation criteria have been progressively and deliberately diluted by the GSC to ensure that at least 20% of the existing shrimp industry can be certified immediately after the Standards are released. The process clearly demonstrates the bias of the ShAD/GSC.
  3. The ShAD/GSC has resolutely refrained from undertaking or commissioning serious research to collect meaningful and verifiable inputs and feedback from Local Resource Users in the manner prescribed by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).
  4. The GSC process for selecting its board members has not been fair from the beginning and is not representative of a transparent and democratic process. As such, the standards overwhelmingly represent industry interests — for example: the whole of Africa is “represented” on the ShAD/GSC by shrimp industry nominees from Madagascar.
  5. Continued lack of proper legislation and enforcement in producer-nations makes adherence to any certification standard unfeasible.
  6. ShAD puts too much trust in the industry to monitor and regulate itself. The certification programme depends upon an untried and untested auditing system. Other critical aspects of the process too require a “leap of faith” — that previously disastrous practices will miraculously reverse their effects once the ShAD standards are released.
  7. The ShAD standards continue to perpetuate unsustainable and destructive open-throughput systems of aquaculture — with a legacy of 400,000 hectares (and counting) of abandoned ponds in producer-nations.

The standards also promote bad practices relating to so-called “mitigation of the effects of mangrove loss”.

  1. The process conveniently ignores wide-spread community displacement, human rights violations and environmental damage to many thousands of hectares of land by the shrimp industry prior to 1999. Under the present standards, ponds in these regions could be certified. Trends indicate that they will. The ASC becomes, therefore, a confessional for the shrimp industry and will grant indulgences in the form of certification.
  2. Export-oriented tropical shrimp production does not contribute towards food security. Food security should not be measured by the weight of export-production or the profit-curve of the industry, but instead by the availability of healthy and sustainable means of local food production for local consumption.
  3. There remains the great risk that WWF-ShAD certification, by placing a green stamp on tropical shrimp, will actually expand the demand for farmed tropical shrimp — both certified and uncertified — thus promoting the continued (and possibly more rapid) expansion of unsustainable practices.
  4. Feed issues are still not satisfactorily resolved and there is still no effective plan to meet increasing feed demands. The projected reliance on GM soy and palm oil is of great concern.
  5. The COs had requested a breakdown of development time spent by ShAD in developing their social, environment and technical standards. We have not received this, yet.
  6. ShAD/GSC and their offspring in the ASC have still not taken any direct and effective actions to influence consumers in the importing nations to reduce shrimp consumption — extremely pertinent to the intent and purposes to any attempt at designing a certification program for shrimp.

We reiterate our demands that shrimp farming should not be located within the inter-tidal zone; it should not be allowed to affect productive agricultural lands, or displace members of local communities.

The final draft standards represent an extremely crude attempt at setting up “standards”. The process demonstrates a lack of careful thought and consideration of ground realities and concern for Local Resource Users — people who will suffer the consequences of WWF-ShAD’s actions.

The GSC’s position that the standards will be released regardless of their merit and consequences leaves little scope for further dialogue.

As such, we the undersigned Conscientious Objectors reject the WWF-ShAD process and its shrimp aquaculture standards.

We reaffirm our support, as always,

For the mangroves and mangrove communities,

The Conscientious Objectors

To see the full list of signees, click: