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Did Certification fail with Pangasius?


Pangasius (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) is a fish, farm-raised in Vietnam, popular for its mild taste and low cost compared to other fish species. In 2016, exports of Vietnamese farm-raised Pangasius were valued at US $1.71 billion (sales to Europe were valued at US $260.9 million and sales to the USA were valued at US $387.4 million)1. Pangasius represented approximately 10% of all certified aquaculture products in 20152. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) alone estimates that 20% of the Vietnamese Pangasius sector is ASC certified. Yet despite this, on Tuesday, 24 January 2017, the Carrefour Group (headquartered in France) made the decision to discontinue selling Pangasius in its stores in Belgium and its fresh fish counters in France, Italy and Spain. Following this announcement some retailers in Italy also decided to eliminate or restrict the sales of Pangasius products and schools in Spain chose to take Pangasius off the lunch menu. In its press release Carrefour stated, “… although Carrefour is absolutely certain that the quality of the Pangasius that it has been selling has been impeccable, the impact that these fish farms has been having on the environment cannot be controlled (water pollution generated by large quantities of excreta and food waste)”3. Given this statement, has aquaculture certification failed with respect to Vietnamese Pangasius? Let’s look at this from 2 perspectives: the context and role of aquaculture certification and the content of aquaculture certification schemes.

The Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) states that 20% of any given population set produces 80% of the results. Let’s use this principle to examine the context of aquaculture certification and the farm-raised Pangasius sector in Vietnam. To do so we need to begin with a few assumptions. First, if we think of the Pangasius production sector as a bell curve, those in the 20th percentile and below (the poor performers) are responsible for 80% of the negative impacts (e.g. water pollution). Second, using the same bell curve analogy, those above the 80th percentile (the better performers) are responsible for the greatest reduction of negative impacts. The objective is to convert the irresponsible practices of those at and below the 80th percentile, which are the average to poor performers, into the responsible practices of the best performers. This is an important function of aquaculture certification. Aquaculture certification schemes provide an implementable framework for responsible practices. Those farms that adopt the responsible practices (e.g. better performers) can become certified, which fulfills a basic requirement for market access. These certified farms then become leaders-by-example and provide an incentive for uncertified farms (the other 80%) to improve their performance.  

Now, let’s take a concrete example for aquaculture certification scheme content. Just as terrestrial farmers are required by regulations to manage the negative impacts of livestock production systems such as manure, regulations require aquaculture enterprises to manage effluent (water that leaves ponds used to raise fish) and disposal of sediment. Aquaculture certification schemes require compliance with regulations as a minimum and impose further rigorous restrictions to ensure sediments such as excreta and feed are disposed of properly. One method is a sediment pond, where solids from the effluent of fish ponds settle and is collected. Then, like manure collected from terrestrial animals this can be sustainably used as a source of rich fertilizer for agriculture or disposed of in an environmentally friendly fashion.

When raised responsibly, Pangasius can be respectful of the environment and provide safe and nourishing protein at an attractive price. With this in mind, the GLOBALG.A.P. Aquaculture certification program has been supporting the Vietnamese aquaculture sector in the adoption and implementation of responsible practices since 2009. In less than a decade aquaculture certification has made real and substantial progress in the Vietnamese Pangasius sector, yet there is still much work to be done with the remaining 80%. This is a formidable task which GLOBALG.A.P. believes this can best be accomplished through the GLOBALG.A.P. Certification Scheme and the GGN logo as well as other aquaculture certification schemes. By purchasing certified product, consumers can support those farms which have implemented responsible practices. This support for certified aquaculture serves as a message to encourage the Vietnamese Pangasius sector to raise its collective consciousness and embrace responsible practices. Together, we can all play a part in encouraging change for the better.




[2] SSI Blue Economy Report