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Join the most recognised certification programme and benefit from trading ASC certified seafood.

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How ASC certified seafood is helping to stop deforestation 

June 14, 2023

We all want to make environmentally responsible decisions when it comes to our diets. The more information we have, the better equipped we are to make these decisions. So here’s a fact that may be news to you: up to 80% of your farmed fish’s climate footprint comes from its feed.

Fish feed for the aquaculture industry is a hot topic. Fish farming is a growing industry and most farmed fish are fed – it’s important to do this sustainably and ethically. You may be aware that many farmed fish are fed fish meal or fish oil, but the bulk of ingredients for today’s fish feed are made of plant-based ingredients such as soy, wheat and rapeseed.

You may also have heard that soy farming can cause deforestation, in the Amazon for example, which brings us full circle. Fish that is farmed responsibly can’t ignore the feed supply chain, but what does that mean exactly? Let us explain.

The plant-based feed in aquaculture supply chains can come from sources linked to deforestation.

What are farmed fish fed, and what impact does that have? 

Fish feed in aquaculture typically consists of a mix of fish-products (fish oil and fishmeal, which is ground dried fish and fish by-products) and plant-based products (mainly oil crops, soy, rice and wheat). These plant-based products make up around 75% of the feed contents. 

The production of these ingredients are industries in themselves, and each element will have its own supply chain that then contributes to the overall impact of the fish that come out of the aquaculture sector and into our homes. If we look at salmon farming, for instance, a recent study showed that an estimated 2.3m tonnes of crops are required to make feed for the industry every year, and that feed production overall accounts for 69% of the industry’s environmental impact. 

This means that tracing the supply chain of feed production back to the start is important if we want to be sure, quite simply, that the salmon dish we enjoy hasn’t contributed to deforestation.

How are fish farming and deforestation linked? 

One of the ingredients used in fish feed production is soy, a very popular crop that is mainly grown in Brazil and the United States, as well as Argentina, China and India, amongst others. Soy is so popular because it has a high protein content, it grows quickly and it is used in the production of a wide range of products, from cosmetics to animal feed. For aquaculture, soy-derived ingredients provide an alternative to fish meal, helping reduce reliance on wild fisheries.

The increase in soy production is one of the leading causes of deforestation and habitat loss in tropical regions, such as South America, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Astonishingly, 30% of tropical deforestation due to agricultural conversion is considered legal, according to the laws of the country of production. Demand for soy is only expected to grow, so it’s really important that we create responsible ways to grow this important crop and protect vital rainforest ecosystems at the same time.

The good news is that there is progress being made to do just this.

In June 2023 the EU Deforestation Regulation was published.  This regulation aims to stop companies from selling agriculture products with a link to deforestation. This would mean that aquaculture companies within the EU would no longer be able to sell seafood that had been fed with feed  that includes soy or palm-oil from sources linked to deforestation (legal or illegal).

A soy plantation. Soy is a major ingredient in aquafeed and needs to be sourced responsibly.

What is ASC doing to reduce the link between deforestation and aquaculture? 

ASC requires farms certified according to its Standard to only source feed from ASC certified feedmills which comply with strict requirements for all ingredients including plant ingredients.  These requirements involve the use of environmentally and socially responsible suppliers and materials, thereby reducing deforestation at the start of the supply chain.

The Feed Standard became effective on 14th January 2023 and from that date the farms have two years to switch to ASC compliant feed so that they can keep their certification.

In practice, this means that if feed producers want to work with ASC certified farms they need to assess the risk of all their plant ingredients contributing to deforestation or land conversion, and commit to moving to a supply chain that isn’t associated with these negative impacts. Crucially, this risk assessment must consider both legal and illegal deforestation, aligning with internationally agreed best practice. As the ASC certified farm network grows and demand grows for feed to support the farms, we hope this will encourage more feed producers to make sure their supply chains are environmentally responsible.

For more information about the ASC Feed Standard, click here.

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