The ASC wants to ensure that fish farming doesn't add to the problem of plastic in the oceans.

ASC sets plastic disposal standards for fish farms

Certification body the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is planning specific requirements for fish farms to properly dispose of plastics and aquaculture gear.

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The move is part of the ASC’s decision to become the first aquaculture body to join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI),  an alliance of organisations working to find solutions to the problem of lost, abandoned or discarded fishing gear – known as ghost gear.

While the issue of ghost gear from fisheries entering the oceans has been well documented, and it is known that every year at least 640,000 tons of ghost gear is left in the oceans, the impact made by fish farms remains unexplored.

In a press release, the ASC said its knowledge and influence in the aquaculture industry will help widen the impact of GGGI to include fish farms, and that it will learn from the experiences of its GGGI partners with an eye towards applying lessons learned to aquaculture production.

Marcelo Hidalgo: "The step is to understand what type of plastics are most commonly used in aquaculture."

Important materials

“As with fisheries, plastics are have become increasingly important materials for much of the equipment used in aquaculture, such as nets, pens, and buoys. Many of these materials have allowed big improvements in efficiency and productivity of the sector. But with so much plastic entering our oceans we decided that action was required to assess how aquaculture can reduce the impacts of plastic from the sector,” said Marcelo Hidalgo, standards and certification coordinator for ASC, who is leading the work.

“Aquaculture is a huge part of the industry and it’s wonderful to see ASC wanting to engage proactively on the issue of gear loss,” said Joel Baziuk, GGGI Secretariat. “We’re looking forward to working together to find solutions to lost gear in the aquaculture sector in addition to our ongoing work in wild capture fisheries.”

The ASC said it has begun comprehensive research into the most commonplace and highest-risk plastics used in aquaculture equipment, and new criteria on plastic disposal are currently being drafted ahead of a public consultation.

Risk of entering oceans

The ASC has already begun the process of working with farmers to identify the most commonly used plastics in aquaculture, what they tend to be used for, and the risk of them entering the oceans.

“Plastics is a catch-all term for a wide variety of materials with very different properties, so the first step is to understand what type of plastics are most commonly used in aquaculture, and what risks they pose to the wider oceans,” said Hidalgo.

“So far, there has been very limited research into this area and our work will help the entire industry adapt better practices. Our own standards will be updated to include specific indicators on the proper disposal of plastics once the proper consultation process has been completed over the coming years.”

The ASC currently has no accredited salmon farms in Scotland, but the world’s biggest salmon farmer, Marine Harvest, has many ASC-certified farms in Norway and Canada. MH Scotland has been unable to certify Scottish farms because it stocks them with smolts raised in freshwater lochs, something that doesn’t fit with the ASC rule book. Changes being made to the ASC’s salmon and trout standards may allow the farms to be certified in future.