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Getting involved with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program

This past winter, I was invited to join the Aquaculture
Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of the Seafood
Watch Program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA).
Initially, I was not sure exactly what my role would be or
what I would be able to contribute.
As I was interested in understanding this elaborate program from
the inside, instead of relying on what I have heard from others (both
negative and positive) about this program, and because I could have
an impact on its evolution, I accepted.
On May 21-22, we had our face-to-face meeting at the MBA. I was
very impressed by the professionalism of the Seafood Watch team
and how the Aquaculture TAC was engaged, following a 60-day
public consultation period, resulting in a 29-page document.
The diversity and excellence of the expertise gathered on the
15-member Aquaculture TAC, covering many aspects of aquaculture,
is also impressive. We were, I believe, sincerely listened to, as we
offered our comments and recommendations on several challenges
that the Seafood Watch team has encountered and intends to address
in their draft revisions to the Seafood Watch Aquaculture Standard,
which last underwent in-depth revisions back in October 2016.
The Seafood Watch Program
The overall approach of the Seafood Watch Program is to
provide information (maintaining standards, assessing sheries
and aquaculture operations globally, improving tools for industry
and governments), engage strategically (for regionally applicable
improvement solutions and collaborative approaches to increase
engagement and promote better understanding), and build
partnerships (with industry, business, government, investors,
regional staff, universities and NGOs).
The Seafood Watch environmental performance evaluation of
global aquaculture changes quite drastically depending on whether
seaweed aquaculture is considered or not.
When considered, 34% is best choice, 1% good alternative, 8%
avoid, 16% are under assessment, 38% is not yet assessed and 2% is
certied. Hence, 45% of global production is rated by the Seafood
Watch Program or certied by a recognised eco-certication (by
comparison, it is 21% for global sheries).
When seaweeds are not considered, 14% is best choice, 2% good
alternative, 11% avoid, 23% are under assessment, 47% is not yet
assessed and 3% is certied. Hence, 30% of global production is
rated by the Seafood Watch Program or certied by a recognised
This points, one more time, to the key role of the seaweed
component in global aquaculture and how it can signicantly shift
statistics. This is also evident when one looks at FAO data.
The goals, tasks and responsibilities of the Aquaculture
The primary charge of the Aquaculture TAC is to tackle substantive
technical issues and to recommend changes to the standard, based on
their combined expertise. It brings technical expertise to standard
review discussions; it reviews and recommends revisions to the
standard; and recommends further input from the Expert Working
Groups and external experts.
First day of face-to-face discussions for the Aquaculture
The day started with the Seafood Watch team asking each member
of the Aquaculture TAC: what “sustainable aquaculture” means;
whether zero-impact or maximum sustainable impact (MSI) was
reachable, and, if so, through what lens (ecological, societal or
economic, or all of the above); and whether it should operate in a
vacuum or not (in context with other industries, resources users, and
at what scale).
We were then presented with a series of topics for discussion,
based on the public comments received. Below are the questions to
which we tried to bring clarication.
Sustainable aquaculture and the precautionary principle
Where do theory and reality intersect and how should that point
inuence a “full score” and a representation of “green”? There
was broad agreement that zero risk or zero impact are impossible,
so the question becomes how do we distinguish between “strong
sustainability” (there is an impact, but it is reversible so that other
activities can take place) and “weak sustainability” (there is an
impact, but it is accepted that it can be channeled towards one
activity for a long time).
Regarding impacts, countries often have a three-tier aquaculture
site classication system based on negative externalities:
-1: Good performing site with minimal remedial action required
-2: Site causing adverse environmental effects; some remediation
-3: Site causing severe damage to the environment; remediation
needed in coordination with regulatory agencies
Working with Janaina Kimpara (Embrapa, Brazil) and Marcia
Kafensztok (Primar Aquacultura Orgânica, Brazil), I believe that we
need two other categories to recognise and incentivise companies
demonstrating neutral or positive impacts and externalities:
0: Site with zero discharge
+1: Site demonstrating positive externalities through consideration
of the ecosystem services provided (organic, Integrated Multi-
Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), circular production, taking
advantage of species interactions and using an ecosystem-based
management approach).
Scope and scale
How should the scale of an industry contribute to the overall
consideration and assessment of its sustainability? How should the
Seafood Watch Program assess the scale of an industry, especially
as it relates to similar impacts from a related industry? Should the
Seafood Watch standard incorporate a mechanism to factor this scale
into the scoring?
Interpretation of “affected habitat”
When considering the habitat effects of a farm, what are the
boundaries/denition for the “habitat”? Should the Seafood Watch
Program consider the impact to the area directly within the perimeter
of a/the farm, or to the broader habitat in which the farm(s) are
Determining chemical use risk
Should this criterion incorporate a risk-based and an evidence-
based assessment option? Which factors, metrics, and outside
research or literature sources should be included? Are there any key
factors the standard is currently missing or could expand upon?
Scoring for predators and wildlife interactions
Given that data on wildlife mortalities are typically poor, and
“proving a negative” (i.e. that mortalities are not occurring) is
difcult, how can the Seafood Watch Program best balance the
precautionary principle while ensuring that industries are not
penalised unfairly?
Getting involved with the Monterey Bay
Aquarium Seafood Watch Program
Dr Thierry Chopin
16 | July 2019 - International Aquafeed
Escape of secondary species during trans-waterbody
Trans-waterbody movements take place when the source
waterbody is ecologically distinct from the destination (farming)
waterbody, such that the live organism movements represent a
risk of introducing non-native species (pathogens, parasites, other
secondary species). This discussion reinforced the view that it is not
international/state/provincial borders that need to be considered, but
movements between different watersheds.
Joint meeting with the Fisheries TAC
On the rst day, we also held a meeting with the Fisheries TAC
to compare and contrast sheries and aquaculture sustainability on
two aspects: 1) scale: how should the scale of an industry contribute
to the evaluation of its sustainability; and 2) input: how to compare
feed for aquaculture and bait for capture sheries?
In Maine (USA), the tonnage of bait (herring) surpasses that of wet
landing of lobster, and 70% of the herring shery goes to catching
lobster. Can that be sustainable and is the lobster shery really a
shery or a fed aquaculture operation?
Second day of face-to-face discussions for the Aquaculture
On the second day, the focus was on the following topics.
Sustainability in sourcing feed ingredients
Should sustainability in marine ingredients play a larger role in
the Seafood Watch standard? Should the sustainability in sourcing
outweigh the overall use of the shmeal/sh oil ratio?
Alternative feed ingredients
How should the Seafood Watch Program incorporate alternative
feed ingredients (e.g. crop-based and insects) into the feed
assessment, and by which metrics should they be assessed,
considering all potential impact areas contained in the current
criterion - sustainability of the source, protein efciency, feed
footprint and other impact areas that may be relevant.
How should the Seafood Watch Program incorporate more
specic guidelines and measures to evaluate the ecological impacts
of polyculture operations, considering all potential impact areas,
such as nutrient discharge and allocation, escape risk and potential
implications of escape, pathogen dynamics, etc?
After some initial discussion, it became clear that there was
confusion between the terms “polyculture” and “IMTA”. I had
offered to make a presentation and I was given the opportunity to
clarify a number of points about the differences between the two and
to explain what IMTA, and its many variations, is about.
I underlined that there is a need for major rethinking regarding
the functioning of an “aquaculture farm” and for moving towards
an integrated coastal area management (ICAM) strategy, instead of
evaluating within anthropogenic site limits (buoys or coordinates), as
they do not reect the ecosystem scales at which aquaculture farms
really function.
As IMTA ts very well within the circular economy approach, it
is also time to modify our vocabulary: nutrients are not necessarily
wastes or by-products, but should be considered as co-products,
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Figure 1: The Aquaculture Technical Advisory
Committee of the Seafood Watch Program at
work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in Monterey,
California (Image courtesy of ©Kathy Chopin)
International Aquafeed - July 2019 | 17
useful for the co-cultivation of other crops in more efcient and
responsible food production systems, while bioremediation of
coastal nutrication takes place.
However, it should be clear that IMTA is more than a nutrient
story; seaweeds, and other extractive species, provide other
ecosystem services. That is why certifying these organisms is
more than certifying seafood; hopefully, these services will nally
be recognised, accounted for and used as nancial and regulatory
incentive tools.
We had a discussion on how multi-species systems should be
assessed: as a whole or if there should be allocation for each
species’ role. In the latter case, I am afraid the interactions
between species, and the ecosystem services they provide, would
be missed and under-evaluated. Moreover, it should be very clear
whether systems with multiple species (polyculture) or with
species at multiple complementary trophic levels (IMTA) are
being evaluated.
At the present time, polyculture shows up in the standard in only
one place, in the risk-based scoring table (Criterion 2, Efuent).
We were asked if there should be a polyculture/IMTA module for
each criterion, or if they should be the topic of a separate guidance
document. Recognising that polyculture/IMTA will affect each
criterion in different ways, we recommended that they not be
addressed in a systematic way for each criterion, but instead when
warranted in the different criteria.
“Appropriate” use of harvested by-products
Should the Seafood Watch Program reconsider how to value
the further utilisation of by-products of the harvested farmed
sh? Should all other uses, for further protein or otherwise, be
considered an appropriate recapture of protein? Should non-protein-
provision uses be weighted differently than protein provision uses?
Denition of broodstock sustainability
Should the Seafood Watch Program expand the scope of Criterion
8X to include broader impacts of shing for farm stock beyond
the stock status, such as by-catch and other considerations? Which
impacts should be considered? What metrics should be used?
Which other research efforts, organizations, ratings or certications,
etc., could be considered or used?
What is next?
All our comments were well taken by the Seafood Watch team;
they will help hone the next draft of the Seafood Watch standard.
There will be another cycle of public consultation in September
2019 (your opportunity to contribute at https://www.seafoodwatch.
org/standards), an Aquaculture TAC meeting, some pilot testing,
revisions and a meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Group for
approval before the new Aquaculture Standard is published in 2020.
So, this consultation is serious business (with multi-vetting steps),
the scope is wide, and the possibilities for input in the process are
readily available.
Moreover, it was a real pleasure to have meetings in such an
ambiance that only the MBA can provide, including a great dinner
in front of the large tank of the Open Sea Exhibit.
I am glad I accepted to be part of the Aquaculture TAC: two days
of great discussions and a sense of participating in the evolution
of the shaping of the responsible aquaculture practices of the
future. The more than two-hour exchange on polyculture/IMTA,
and how that should be approached in the new standard, was
very enlightening and an indication that IMTA, as a sustainable
aquaculture practice, is being increasingly recognized and
considered as a responsible solution.
Dr. Thierry Chopin is Professor of Marine Biology, and Director of the Seaweed and Integrated Multi-
Trophic Aquaculture Research Laboratory, at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He is
also the owner and President of Chopin Coastal Health Solutions Inc., since 2016.
Figure 2: The beautiful setting of the Monterey
Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row, in Monterey,
California (Image courtesy of ©Thierry Chopin)
18 | July 2019 - International Aquafeed
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