Green Beams for the Blue Revolution: How Standards Can Benefit Aquaculture

By Erik Bonsaksen

When world fisheries catches declined in the late 1980s, it was explained by the combination of overfishing, size of resource base and changes in ocean climate. At the same time, global aquaculture production began to blossom, expanding by 12 times and becoming today the fastest-growing food production industry on the planet, a development famously coined the “Blue Revolution.”

Aquaculture became a promising field in terms of countering food production challenges for the U.N.-estimated world population of 9.3 billion by 2050. However, as the World Wildlife Fund and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment suggest, human consumption patterns are already now approaching the upper limit of what Earth’s resources can sustain with signs of depletion on nearly two-thirds of the planet’s natural resources. To evade a global food supply crisis, an increased level of sustainable management is required as further exhaustion of natural fish populations and surrounding environment can be fatal for the upcoming demand.

How ‘green’ products can improve the industry

Key factors for sustainable management in aquaculture are technological advancement and policies that encourage environmental standards and labels. A ‘standard’ is a solution sprung from repeated use in a certain period of time and numbers. It can form a narrative about the ways we order ourselves, or other people, things, processes, numbers and even language itself for the optimum degree of order. When embodied in a document, a standard can have a ‘soft law’ nature, but it really is just an unforced and preferred method of doing things in the world we live in.

These standards can, when containing a set of environmental requirements, uphold eco-labels – identifiers on products for being more environmental friendly than other products. Such ‘green products’ will surely not solve the global food supply threats alone. But instead of waiting for the magic technological advancement to solve all problems, they can promote the incorporation of key principles for energy efficiency or waste management, thus enhance or improve the overall ‘standard’ of the aquaculture industry.

A label can become a respected indicator for responsible practice, but it relies on the level of the requirements, third-party verification and acknowledgement. ‘Going green’ seems to be like a bandwagon that every company tried to jump on to, exploiting the use of green and ecological products as a catchpenny gimmick. As a result, a green wave has flooded the banks of aquaculture, leading to a great proliferation of environmental standards and certification schemes, and greenwashing – false or misleading claims about a product, service or company, continues to be a challenge for people trying to buy greener fish products.

Make environmental awareness simple and easy

Recent marketing and retail studies show that price and expertise are the main barriers towards green behavior and consumption, and the latter is interestingly affecting the former. Who is to blame? Time required getting into the various topics such as eutrophication or coal ash disposal is far beyond the willingness to spend among the average consumer. Navigation through the vast sea of environmentally friendly fish products can be difficult, and consumers will ideally make their selection based on confidence and trust. Instead of having thousands of labels to choose from, few but credible schemes should prevail.

What the aquaculture industry can do is to convince the customer in an easy and direct manner. A standard procedure is to validate beyond claims and confirm the compliance of strong and international environmental requirements. For this, there are few standards and labels showing promise. The following is a list of examples of environmental labels that help consumers to identify greener and healthier fish products:

  • Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC): Recognize aquaculture products that have been harvested in a more sustainable manner based on certification to the ASC Salmon standard.
  • Best Aquaculture Practices standards (BAP): A certification scheme advancing environmentally and socially responsible aquaculture.
  • Naturland: Promotes organic aquaculture through sustainable management, nature conservation and climate protection in actual practice, preserving and maintaining the soil, air and water, as well as consumer protection.

It is also a question of getting people to buy green products. When recession gripped the world in 2008, the environmental love affair steadily built up throughout decades seemed to burst like an old-timey firecracker. In a sudden shift, worldwide markets experienced a transition in consumer patterns from explicit picking of sustainable products, to an impassive selection reserved to those only found in sale baskets.

For a brief moment, that is. It is easy to think the green trail before sauntered was a quaint gust with a long lost peak, but problems do not cease to exist despite being less trendy. With time, awareness of environmental challenges will increase as the consequences continue to brawl. Major industries, such as aquaculture, have responded by forming initiatives to ensure sustainability. Because not being a part of the nature-friendly train might in the long-term sidetrack a company away from future markets.

Hence, if global fish populations continue diminishing, there will indeed be a hard market to get into.

Image credit: Thomas Bjørkan, wikimedia

As a keen lover of the environment and seafood, Erik Bonsaksen finished a unique degree in Industrial Ecology focusing on aquaculture, management and certification/standards. His professional motto is “do more with less”, the very core of sustainable development.

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