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Aquaculture certification market access or market barrier?

The greatest benefit aquaculture certification offers to the marketplace is the additional assurance it provides through independent third parties1 that ‘credible and rigorous’ standards for food safety, animal health, environmental and social issues as well as traceability have been met in the production chain. In recognition of this benefit, compliance with aquaculture certification schemes has essentially become a de facto requirement necessary for access to the global marketplace. At the same time, for those unable to comply, voluntary standards and aquaculture certification schemes have been criticized as a barrier to market entry. Let’s explore this criticism by examining the role of aquaculture certification, the benefits aquaculture certification brings to the marketplace and the challenges aquaculture certification presents to the producer unable to comply, especially small-scale farmers.

The role of aquaculture certification schemes:
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) outlined a framework for credible aquaculture certification schemes in the Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification. The guidelines state: “There is an extensive national and international legal framework in place for various aspects of aquaculture and its value chain, covering such issues as aquatic animal disease control, food safety and conservation of biodiversity. Legislation is particularly strong for processing, export and import of aquatic products. Recognized competent authorities are normally empowered to verify compliance with mandatory national and international legislation. Other issues such as environmental sustainability and socio-economic aspects may not be covered in such a binding manner and open the opportunity for voluntary certification as a means to demonstrate that a particular aquaculture system is managed responsibly.”2 Thus the role of voluntary standards3 and aquaculture certification schemes is to serve as a platform that bridges gaps in national and international regulations and their application in the global supply chain particularly at the feed, hatchery and farm level as well as in the processing, export and import sectors. Aquaculture certification does this through credible and robust standards, accreditation4 and certification5. Additionally, the FAO guidelines state, “The application of certification in aquaculture is now viewed as a potential market-based tool for minimizing potential negative impacts and increasing societal and consumer benefits and confidence in the process of aquaculture production and marketing.”6 Here the guidelines refer to compliance with aquaculture certification as an incentive to implement responsible practices which contribute to enhanced aquaculture sector sustainability.

The marketplace benefits of aquaculture certification:
There are a number of benefits associated with aquaculture certification. The first benefit of aquaculture certification as previously stated is the additional assurance it provides through independent third parties that ‘credible and rigorous’ standards for food safety, animal health, environmental and social issues as well as traceability have been met in the production chain. As discussed in the previous paragraph, these rigorous standards compensate for the absence of, or the  inadequacies in the application of international and national regulations. This serves to create a globally recognized acceptable level of responsible practices. This provides additional assurance that the fish and seafood products raised at certified facilities are safe, wholesome and were produced in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner. Additionally, the ‘Certified Aquaculture’ GGN logo enables consumers to readily identify fish and seafood products raised through responsible practices and reward these producers by purchasing their products. Ultimately, this marketplace recognition serves to incentivize other producers to adopt responsible practices.

Challenges of aquaculture certification:
Aquaculture certification schemes are based on rigorous standards, intentionally drafted to protect consumers through food safety, promote animal welfare, minimize negative environmental impacts and ensure social issues such as the protection of worker rights and preservation of community interests are upheld. These standards can sometimes create thresholds which are too difficult for producers to meet. This is especially true for small-scale producers. FAO guidelines recognize this and state, aquaculture certification “should not discriminate against any group of farmers practicing responsible aquaculture based on scale, intensity of production or technology; promote cooperation among certification bodies, farmers and traders; incorporate reliable, independent auditing and verification procedures; and should be cost-effective to ensure inclusive participation of responsible farmers”7. Additionally aquaculture certification schemes, “should ensure special considerations are provided to address the interests of resource-poor small-scale farmers, especially the financial costs and benefits of participation, without compromising food safety.”8 GLOBALG.A.P. Certification has addressed these FAO principles through a program called ‘localg.a.p.’ ‘localg.a.p.’ is a stepwise approach to certification, where producers gain recognition in the market by meeting a core set of GLOBALG.A.P. standards as they progress toward full certification. To learn more about localg.a.p. watch this

So we see, the overarching role of ‘Certified Aquaculture’ is to protect consumers, respect animal welfare, reduce negative environmental impacts as well as safeguard worker’s rights and community interests through rigorous standards. The benefit of a program such as ‘Certified Aquaculture’ is it facilitates market access. Furthermore, the GGN logo helps consumers identify responsibly produced fish and seafood products and reward producers by purchasing these products. This in turn provides an incentive for other producers to adopt responsible practices and programs such as ‘localg.a.p.’ which provide a stepwise approach to achieve GLOBALG.A.P. Certification. When you see the GGN logo on a package, know that you can purchase the product with confidence and a good conscience and that your purchase serves as an incentive for the aquaculture sector to adopt and implement responsible practices and a more sustainable production chain.



[1] Person or body that is recognized as being independent of the parties involved, as concerns the issue in question, and involves no conflict of interest. (ISO/IEC Guide 2:1996; Ecolabelling Guidelines)

[2] FAO.Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification.Directives techniques relatives à la certification en aquaculture. Directrices técnicas para la certificación en la acuicultura. Rome/Roma, FAO. 2011. p. 2

[3] An approved document that provides for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, with which compliance is not mandatory under international trade rules. It may also include or deal exclusively with terminology, symbols, packaging, marking or labelling requirements as they apply to a product, process or production method. A public sector standard is prepared by the international standardization community, and is always approved by an officially recognized body. A private sector standard is prepared by a private body and is not in all cases approved by an officially recognized body. (Based on TBT agreement, Annex 1, para. 2)

[4] System that has its own rules of procedure and management for carrying out accreditation. Accreditation of certification bodies is normally awarded following successful assessment and is followed by appropriate surveillance.(ISO Guide 2, para. 17.1)

[5] Procedure by which certification body or entity gives written or equivalent assurance that a product, process or service conforms to specified requirements. Certification may be, as appropriate, based on a range of audit activities that may include continuous audit in the production chain.(Modified from ISO Guide 2, 15.1.2; Principles for Food Import andExport Certification and Inspection, CAC/GL 20; EcolabellingGuidelines)

[6] See 2 above p. 1

[7] See 2 above p. 8

[8] Ibid