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Going Green: Market milestone

ASC-certified tilapia reaches Europe, with pangasius on its heels

By Lisa Duchene
November 01, 2012

At Regal Springs’ tilapia farms on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, tilapia grows in large floating cages to minimize pollution in local waters and the company regularly tests water quality. Every bit of fish waste and effluent is used somehow — whether in composting, rice field irrigation, collagen production or the biodiesel fuel that powers farm generators and trucks, says Magdalena Wallhoff, the Miami company’s VP of sales.

Water pollution — along with use of chemicals and antibiotics, fish escapes and the social conditions of workers — is one of the key areas addressed in standards to minimize environmental harm in fish farming and certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). 

On Aug. 20, Regal Springs’ tilapia products became the first farmed seafood on the market to be ASC-certified. 

And tilapia isn’t the only species to earn the new eco-label: The Tan Hoa farm of the Vinh Hoan Corp. in Vietnam in June became the first to be audited to ASC pangasius standards. At press time, pangasius products had not yet reached the market, but were expected to as early as this fall.

Initial European sales of certified products are going well, says Wallhoff.

“We want to see what happens in a few months. How are the orders going to continue now that the hype has died down?” says Wallhoff. A Dutch media outlet covered the introduction and some of the retailers and seafood companies promoted it with POS displays and press releases.

Albert Heijn, the largest seafood retailer in the Netherlands, is one of the retailers carrying the tilapia under its private-label brand. The company works with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a co-founder of the ASC, on its seafood sourcing policies. Retailers in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Canada are carrying the certified tilapia. Jumbo, a Dutch supermarket company, is carrying the certified product, says Wallhoff, as are German seafood companies TopSea, Costa and Bofrost.

The market milestone offers seafood buyers a third-party certification option for farmed seafood designed to parallel that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for wild fish. It has been in the works for nearly a decade, starting with roundtable talks with buyers, producers, scientists and environmentalists that tackled environmental problems linked to fish farming. The WWF-led Aquaculture Dialogues created standards that spell out and define responsible production. WWF is also a co-founder of the MSC.  

“The introduction of the ASC tilapia in advanced markets as Germany and the Netherlands this summer was successful,” says Chris Ninnes, the council’s CEO. “The presence of ASC tilapia is from the start very prominent. We also expect a lot from the introduction of ASC pangasius in the market. The volumes are far bigger.”

ASC expects the first certified farmed shrimp and salmon products to reach the market next year. “We will make major steps,” Ninnes says. 

Salmon standards were most recently finalized in June, and other standards have been developed for bivalves and abalone. Still in the works: shrimp, freshwater trout, amberjack and cobia.

The standards promote remedial measures and steps to limit phosphorus and nitrogen loading on the environment, like treatment systems between the growing facility and natural receiving waters.

Another step given consideration in the standards is recycling effluent in other biologic systems, as Regal Springs is doing. The standards give tilapia producers until 2014 to source feed containing fishmeal or fish oil from fisheries certified as sustainable by ISEAL.

None of Regal Springs’ conservation practices are new, says Wallhoff. 

“We didn’t change anything to get ASC-certified. It was a lot of checking checklists. It didn’t require overhauling anything,” she says. Regal’s two farms are ASC-certified and produce for the U.S. and European markets, but only products for the European market carry the necessary chain-of-custody for ASC labeling. Regal would not divulge the cost premium represented in the price of the certified product.

The company decided to pursue certification because it already considered itself a leader in the way it farms, making every effort to balance the needs of local communities and the environment. In short, it was already paying higher costs of production, she says.

“Why would we wait for someone with lesser quality to pay for the certification?” says Wallhoff.

Regal is taking a wait-and-see approach for the U.S. market: “We want to see how customers react to the opportunity to buy it,” says Wallhoff, noting that about 10 years ago Regal secured organic certification for its fish via Natürland but found some retailers balked at the price premium.

“Back then the market was clearly not ready,” says Wallhoff. “I’m curious as to how it’s going to be now.” 

Contributing Editor Lisa Duchene lives in Bellefonte, Pa.


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