We’ve all heard the term “sustainable aquaculture” – it’s used all the time. But what exactly does it mean?

We like this explanation from the World Bank:

Aquaculture is projected to be the prime source of seafood by 2030, as demand grows from the global middle class and wild capture fisheries approach their maximum take. When practiced responsibly, fish farming can help provide livelihoods and feed a global population that will reach nine billion by 2050. But for an aquaculture system to be truly sustainable, it must have:    

  •  Environmental sustainability — Aquaculture should not create significant disruption to the ecosystem, or cause the loss of biodiversity or substantial pollution impact.
  •  Economic sustainability — Aquaculture must be a viable business with good long-term prospects.
  •  Social and community sustainability — Aquaculture must be socially responsible and contribute to community well-being.

 Sustainable aquaculture is a dynamic concept and the sustainability of an aquaculture system will vary with species, location, societal norms and the state of knowledge and technology. 


The Ontario aquaculture industry began preparing for third-party eco-certifications back in 2009, when increasing consumer demand required retailers to develop sustainable seafood sourcing policies. Aquaculture certification programs provide a method for evaluating and verifying that production meets a certain standard of environmental and/or social performance. Standards and certifications allow consumers to make informed, sustainable choices.

Although each certification scheme contains different targets, they all address those three pillars of sustainability:

  • Sustainable business and farm management practices. This means responsible industry development that includes effective biosecurity and disease control; minimal antibiotic use; achieving global standards for sanitation and hygiene; humane harvest and transport methods; record-keeping and traceability; and economic profitability.
  • Environmental protection and healthy ecosystems. This means wetland conservation; effective waste management and water quality control; sediment management; efficient fishmeal and fish oil use; responsible sourcing of broodstock; control of escapes; and minimizing impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Community and social well-being. This means having established rights to land and resources; regulatory compliance and effective enforcement; community involvement; worker safety; fair wages and labour practices.

Why certify?

With much of our current fish and seafood being imported from other countries or regions without the same levels of regulation and oversight, consumers are legitimately concerned about the quality and safety of the foods they eat. A certification label is easily recognized by buyers and can be interpreted as a seal of approval as the process itself provides verification since third party audits are required.

Certification in Ontario

In 2011, the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association was able to hire Global Gap to undertake benchmarking audits to gauge readiness for eventual certification. Eight facilities – farms, hatcheries, and processing plants – were audited under the Certified Quality Trout, Global Gap, and WWF Trout Dialogue standards, as well as the Ontario developed Best Management Practices currently followed by farmers.

In 2012, further audits were done as part of a pilot project that examined the feasibility of a “Made in Canada” standard based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture guidelines for sustainable aquaculture.

The results of both audits suggested that the Ontario industry was essentially ready to achieve certification. The question of the day was which standard(s) to choose? Ultimately, industry members decided to choose standards that best suited their individual operations.

Today, Ontario farmed rainbow trout is either certified to the Canada Organic Aquaculture Standard, or to Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standard – if not certified, then working towards certification.

Canadian Organic

The word “organic” on Canadian aquaculture products means an accredited, third-party certifying body has verified that production methods meet or exceed the Canadian standard for organic aquaculture production.

Organic aquaculture is concerned with the health and productivity of the whole aquatic ecosystem. Organic aquaculture standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, herbicides, and GMOs, while severely limiting the use of parasiticides (allowed only as a last resort and only under veterinary supervision).  The standards set requirements for minimizing impact of waste and define stocking rates, cleaning procedures, and feed materials, to name a few.

For more information on the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, see the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance’s very thorough explanation here.

Best Aquaculture Practices

The Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) program is an international certification system that verifies environmentally and socially responsible processes under which farmed shrimp, salmon, tilapia, Pangasius, mussels and other finfish and crustacean species are produced.

Aquaculture facilities that participate in BAP certification apply standardized best management practices in every phase of their operations to ensure food safety, environmental integrity, social responsibility, animal welfare and traceability.

Seafood produced under BAP standards is better for the environment, better for your customers and better for the greater global community. The comprehensive BAP standards go well beyond other aquaculture certification programs by addressing much more than important environmental issues. BAP addresses social justice to protect workers, animal welfare to safeguard the health of the animals and food safety.

For more information on the Best Aquaculture Practices program, visit the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s site here.