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Salmon swimming, taken at a salmon farm © Erling Svensen / WWF

Salmon swimming, taken at a salmon farm © Erling Svensen / WWF

Review of Eco-labelling Standards in Relation to Salmon Farming in Macquarie Harbour

13 Dec 2019

Keywords
  • tasmania
  • salmon

WWF-Australia has commissioned an independent review of voluntary sustainability standards for responsible salmon production, and their application to the certification of salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania. We are seeking your input.

WWF generally supports the use of voluntary sustainability standards to promote and verify the responsible production and sourcing of farmed seafood products.  As we know, standards are continually evolving and must be regularly reviewed and updated in response to developing science, technology and stakeholder concerns.

Background
Caged salmon and trout farming have occurred in Macquarie Harbour since the late 1980s.  Production steadily increased over the years, reaching around 9,000 tonnes in 2011. Following the 2012 decision by the Tasmanian Government to allow an expansion of salmon farming in the Harbour, biomass was increased dramatically, with production approaching 16,000 tonnes in 2015 . In March 2016 the allowable cap for salmon production in Macquarie Harbour was provisionally increased to 21,500 tonnes, subject to review the following year.

The Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) was commissioned to conduct research and monitor several environmental variables in relation to the potential impact of increased salmon biomass on the aquatic environment in Macquarie Harbour.  IMAS evaluated a range of variables including indicators of the health of seabed fauna and flora and water quality.  The research revealed a significant decline in dissolved oxygen in the water column dating from 2009, as well as significant adverse impacts on both the fauna and flora communities health and salmon health, with observations of severe impact peaking in October 2016. Based on these findings, and under direction from government, the biomass of farmed salmon in Macquarie Harbour progressively reduced.

Eco-labels
Voluntary sustainability standards and associated certification and labelling systems are designed to provide independent assurance that a producer has credibly met objective requirements to minimise negative environmental and social impacts. 

In the case of salmon farming, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Salmon Standard establishes principles, criteria, indicators and measurable performance levels for responsible salmon aquaculture with respect to a range of social and environmental issues. WWF generally supports the ASC Salmon Standard, which we helped to develop and continue to promote. 

Several salmon farming leases in Macquarie Harbour were ASC-certified during the period of observed impact, including the largest and most southern lease, where the October 2016 IMAS survey found that benthic sediments were virtually devoid of all fauna. ASC certification of these sites has not continued. Today, some of these same farms are certified under the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standard, a different voluntary certification program that addresses four key areas of sustainability—environmental, social, food safety, and animal health & welfare.

Considering the experience in Macquarie Harbour, questions have been raised about potential issues or gaps in the ASC standard and/or audit process, which might have allowed farms to become certified and/or to maintain their certifications despite the deterioration of environmental conditions.  Aligned with this is the question of whether the more recent BAP certification is a signal of improved management and environmental management or of lower/weaker criteria under the BAP system.

While WWF believes that voluntary certification can be an effective tool to verify and communicate sustainable production, no standard is perfect. All standards must evolve and should be regularly reviewed and updated in light of developing science, technology and stakeholder concerns. WWF’s review of the experience in Macquarie Harbour is intended as a constructive contribution to the regular and ongoing review of the ASC and BAP standards. 

Terms of Reference
The aim of the review is to examine the circumstances surrounding the events in Macquarie Harbour, outlined above, and their relevance to voluntary certification of responsible salmon farming. The review will be guided by the following overarching questions:

a. Why and how the ASC standard and certification process did not avoid or prevent the adverse impacts observed at Macquarie Harbour farming sites? 
b. Given the special environmental conditions of Macquarie Harbour, what would be the appropriate ‘indicators’ and ‘requirements’ for voluntary production standards to protect local biodiversity and ecosystem function? In the case that the indicators and requirements cannot yet be defined, clearly indicate what is needed, for example, which area of research, in order to develop appropriate indicators and requirements.
c. Does the reliance of voluntary standards, including both ASC and BAP, on operators being in compliance with local and national laws, without requiring a minimum standard for those laws, create a gap in expectations about the meaning of ‘environmentally responsible’? 
d. Would explicit criteria, which require potential cumulative impacts from multiple leases to be assessed and managed, have prevented the certification of sites in Macquarie Harbour and/or driven additional management and production decisions to prevent these impacts?  
e. How should voluntary salmon production standards be adjusted more generically to address the issues identified above, in order to prevent similar impacts occurring in other locations?

The outcomes of the review will be presented to the ASC and BAP and other standard holders, with recommendations for improvements. 

The review will be conducted by Michèle Stark.  Dr Michèle Stark is a marine biologist, specialised in estuarine and coastal science and management.  Ms Stark’s experience was founded in laboratory- based analysis, wetland health and management and also several years of risk management at a Swiss research institute. Dr Stark joined the auditing and certification body IMOswiss AG and founded its Department for Aquaculture & Fisheries, which she led for almost ten years. During this period, she set up offices throughout four continents and gained accreditation for and supported the development of major seafood standards. A global team of lead auditors was set up and trained to bring seafood producers to certification and to international market access. During these 10 years, Michèle Stark audited several hundred seafood producers world-wide. In 2014, Dr Stark founded Seafood Advisory Ltd in 2014 which gives expert advice to seafood buyers, retail, standard setters, producers, NGOs, government organisations and research institutions. 
Dr Michèle Stark is on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Technical Advisory Board, as well as on the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) Seafood Watch Technical Advisory Committee for aquaculture. 

Your input is needed
WWF welcomes stakeholder input into this review.  If you have any information relevant to the subject of this review, please contact Jo-anne McCrea, WWF-Australia’s Fisheries & Seafood Manager: WSeafood@wwf.org.au   All input is welcome!

Timelines

 

What                                                   When

Stakeholder comment period - Until the end of January 2020 
Stakeholder interviews -          January/February 2020
Review Report -                             Expected in May 2020