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

Farmed salmon

Salmon producers representing 50 per cent of global production are working together to make better production practices the industry norm
“In the marketplace we’ll fight all the time for customers and to innovate,” says Alfonso Marquez de la Plata, CEO of aquaculture group Empresas AquaChile at the time of writing. “But on sustainability issues it makes complete sense to cooperate.” 

Of all the ways of producing food, none is expanding more rapidly than aquaculture. Global salmon consumption has more than tripled since 1980. Aquaculture now outstrips wild-caught seafood as an important source of protein in people´s diet.

But as the industry has grown, so has its environmental footprint, threatening its image and its long-term viability. 

That’s why, in April 2012, 15 producers – representing 50 per cent of the global farmed salmon industry – joined forces to launch the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI). They made a bold pledge: to certify all their farms according to the highest sustainability standard around, that of the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), by 2020.

Credible standards 

“We have to be able to demonstrate that we do our job responsibly,” says Alfonso.  “The public doesn’t believe industry self-certification to be very credible – we know it’s better to have third-party certification. We checked all the available standards. Many are excellent, but ASC is the strictest and I believe also the best.” 

The ASC salmon standard was developed over almost a decade of dialogue between the industry and other stakeholders, including WWF. It includes strict controls to minimize negative impacts on the aquatic environment and on wild salmon populations – for example by maintaining water quality, minimising the use of chemicals and antibiotics and preventing fish from escaping.

It also rules out the use of genetically modified salmon, places strict rules on how producers control predators like seals and herons, and ensures farms operate in a socially responsible way. 

Another key area is feed. Large quantities of fishmeal and fish oil are used to feed farmed fish – potentially increasing, rather than reducing, the pressure on wild fisheries. The ASC standard requires producers to use less feed from wild fish, strictly limiting how much wild-caught fish can be used per kilo of fish raised and to ensure it is certified by a credible certification scheme in future.

Feed manufacturers are encouraged to use the trimmings from processing for human consumption, such as heads and bones instead of whole fish from targeted feed fisheries. This perfectly edible product would be wasted otherwise.


As the industry expands, sourcing feed responsibly is one of the GSI’s main priorities, says Alfonso. 

GSI members are also sharing knowledge and best practices to reduce disease and parasites such as sea lice which can impact on wild fish and require polluting chemical treatments. “We have a lot of knowledge,” says Alfonso. “Some countries like Norway have gone through the learning curve and made important progress. Coordination is everything.” 

For some companies, achieving certification will require significant investment – but Alfonso believes that this will pay off in improving procedures and demonstrating to customers that they are doing their job responsibly.

He is optimistic that the GSI members will meet the 100% certification target by 2020, and that the rest of the industry will follow suit. 

“In the future, I think it will become very uncommon for companies to choose a different road. ASC is a high bar, but I believe we can do it and continue to improve the way we operate. Most, if not all producers think that to provide a sustainable source of protein is so important – I don’t think there are any farmers who won’t go along this route.” 

Better Production for a Living Planet

	© WWF
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  • Aquaculture feed derived from wild-caught fish drives overfishing, with fish oil and fishmeal for aquaculture accounting for a third of global fish harvest. 
  • Disease and parasite outbreaks can affect wild species as well as farmed fish. 
  • Waste from fish farms can pollute the lake/seabed. 
  • Excessive and preventive use of chemicals (e.g. antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides) can have harmful impacts on the aquatic environment and human health. 
  • Escaped farm species may cross with wild species, weakening their genetic diversity. 

  • ASC certification encourages improvements to coastal zone and fisheries management. 
  • Well-managed aquaculture can help improved food security and meet increased demand for seafood. 
  • Aquaculture supports innovation in production methods and technology, which can help reduce impacts. 

 “We recognize that while we have made significant progress, there is still a lot to be done in terms of sustainability. We hope that through industry collaboration, research and knowledge sharing, we can make the necessary changes to do better.” 

Alf-Helge Aarskog CEO of Marine Harvest and GSI co-chair

Priority Countries

  • Production Norway, Chile, UK 

    Demand drivers Consumption, growing population, income 


  • Aquaculture produces almost 60 per cent of the world’s salmon, an industry worth US$5.4 billion per year. 

WWF targets

  • By 2020: 70% of globally produced salmon aquaculture is ASC certified. 


  • 27% farmed salmon is ASC certified (August 2016) 

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