Villa Leppefisk, a salmon farm in Norway on the path to sustainability. / ©: WWF-Canon / Jo BENN

Responsible Aquaculture

Responsibly farmed shrimp and salmon: a taste of things to come.
A small corner of Nicaragua’s Lake Apoyo used to be home to a tilapia farm. But then some of the fish escaped from the farm. The non-native species wiped out one of the lake’s vital food plants. The whole ecosystem collapsed. In 2000, the farm closed, just five years after it had opened. It has taken a decade for the lake to begin to recover.

The tragedy of Lake Apoyo is just one example of the devastating impact unsustainable fish farming can have on the environment. While this tragedy presents a cautionary tale, it also highlights the challenge of feeding over nine billion people expected to be living on this planet by the middle of this century, while still maintaining the planet’s natural resources.

When done responsibly, fish farming (aquaculture) presents a solution to meeting the increasing food demand of a growing global population. Farmed seafood already accounts for more than half of all the fish and shellfish we eat. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, most of the increase in seafood production will be seen in the aquaculture industry, given that much of the world’s marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished. So the question is not whether aquaculture is a viable option to feed the planet, but rather, can it be done responsibly?

Change in the Water

The answer is yes. A few hundred kilometres northwest of Lake Apoyo, tilapia is farmed in a very different way than it used to be farmed in the lake. At Regal Springs’ Aquafinca farm in Honduras, the water’s chemical composition is continually monitored to ensure oxygen and nutrient levels remain stable. Fine mesh cages prevent fish from escaping. Strict guidelines are followed to maintain the fishs’ health and welfare, reducing the risk of disease and need for antibiotics. Feed derived from threatened fisheries is prohibited – in fact, the farm produces more fishmeal and fish oil from its waste than it consumes.

“Our philosophy has always been to have a business that is sustainable for the long-term in an environmental and social sense,” said Martin Sukkel, Regal Springs’ Chief Operating Officer. “If we screw up the water, we’re screwing up our own farming environment. If your horizon is five or ten years, you may not care – but we want to be here indefinitely.”

Regal Springs’ Aquafinca farm shows this commitment in action. The farm is the first to meet the standards of the Tilapia Aquaculture Dialogue – a set of measurable standards for responsible aquaculture developed by WWF and other environmental organizations, scientists, retailers and producers, to achieve change in the water. Once certified, fish from Regal Springs’ four farms – which together produce nearly six per cent of tilapia traded globally – will carry the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) label, the hallmark of responsible aquaculture.

Better Choices

Several retailers have already expressed interest in stocking ASC-certified tilapia.

And better choices in farmed seafood will not end there. The ASC will manage the global standards and certification programs for 12 farmed seafood species groups, including shrimp and salmon.

WWF has identified farmed shrimp and salmon as priority commodities, as they have a significant potential for negative impact on the places and species WWF seeks to protect.

Through the Aquaculture Dialogues, WWF is working with stakeholders across the farmed shrimp and salmon supply chains to develop and implement standards to reduce the potential negative environmental and social impacts of shrimp and salmon aquaculture.

While the ASC label may still be a new concept, progress seen with tilapia is just a taste of what’s to come for the aquaculture industry as more companies view sustainability as a precompetitive issue.

“ASC certification may be a competitive advantage for us for a few years, but it won’t be in the long term, and we don’t want it to be,” Martin says. “Food safety standards aren’t a competitive advantage – they’re just a condition of doing business. Sustainability standards should be the same. Sustainability is not easy, and it looks expensive, but it’s a very profitable investment if you’re prepared to look long term.”

More examples of how transforming markets can make a difference can be found here.


Better Production for a Living Planet

 / ©: WWF
The text on this page is an excerpt from the WWF Publication Better Production for a Living Planet (2012).


  • Aquaculture industry must reduce dependency on fishoil and fishmeal, a key feed ingredient, representing a third of the global fish harvest;
  • Risk of disease and parasite outbreaks between farmed and wild fish, and among farms;
  • Pollution or depletion of local waterways, including salinization in the case of shrimp farming;
  • Excessive use of chemicals such as antibiotics, fertilizers and pesticides can have unintended consequences for marine organisms and human health;
  • Habitat conversion;
  • Farmed species escape can impact genetic diversity of wild species.

  • ASC certification encourages improvements to coastal zone and small pelagic fisheries management;
  • Well-managed aquaculture can be part of the solution to feeding the planet, as future increase in seafood production will come from the growing aquaculture industry as many marine fish stocks are overfished;
  • The growth of aquaculture is linked to innovation in production methods and technology, a good environment in which to enact change around reducing impacts.

For Costco, because of our size, we need to begin planning now for how we’ll be sourcing in five or ten years. We expect to significantly increase the amount of tilapia we sell, and we need high quality. The only way to ensure we can do that is to make sure we use credible, sustainable sources.

Ken Kimble, Asst. GMM, Costco

Aerial shot of fish ponds with mangroves in the background. / ©: Bertrand Coûteaux
Aqualma aquaculture farm, Madagascar. This farm was the first one established in Madagascar,: there are no aerators so the rearing density is very low.
© Bertrand Coûteaux


The ASC salmon and shrimp aquaculture standards will be finalized in 2012. There is no third-party ASC certified salmon or shrimp aquaculture yet.
  •  / ©: ASC
    The ASC’s mission is to transform aquaculture toward environmental and social sustainability using efficient market mechanisms that create value across the supply chain.

Priority Countries

  • Production of salmon
    Norway, Chile, UK

    Production of shrimp

    China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia

    USA, Japan, EU


  • Demand drivers
    Consumption, population, income

    Future focus for success

    Focus on producers working in the places WWF cares about most.

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