The demand for seafood is at an all-time high, but many fisheries are overfished and cannot supply the growing market. Aquaculture can help fill this gap but there are various barriers to producing farmed seafood responsibly.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), widely recognized as the most credible and robust aquaculture certification scheme, has a global footprint but not all aquaculture producers currently meet ASC’s robust farm standards. That’s why the group launched the Improver Programme to support farms in improving their practices and ultimately drive transformation at scale.

The new Programme offers a structured and transparent approach to projects, standardized reporting and monitoring, and is available for single farm or group options.

A Structured Approach to Monitor Aquaculture Improvement:

Previously, there was no clearly defined framework for Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs), unlike the fisheries improvements space. However, the Improver Programme will provide structured approach to monitor AIP progress—a first in aquaculture. Each AIP starts with a baseline measurement including a gap analysis and a time-bound project plan. Progress needs to be reported on a regular basis and will be verified by independent entities; all this information will be public on the ASC website under the “Find an AIP” search tool.

Producers can choose one of two tracks for their Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP):

  1. The AIP to ASC certification route, where a plan of four phases is defined to improve performance to a level where the producer is ready to begin the ASC certification process by the end of the AIP. 
  2. The AIP to Better Practices route, which is set out to facilitate producers who do not wish to become ASC certified but want to improve responsible practices in specific environmental or social areas.

Using this model, seafood companies can encourage producers in their supply chain to participate in AIPs and can track progress along the way. This allows for accountability, clarity about where the farm currently stands in terms of its performance and potential for improvement, and a clear pathway to certification.

A “Game Changer” for the Industry:

Farms participating in the Improver Programme receive support from on-farm Implementers, organizations trained and qualified by ASC, who provide technical assistance to bridge gaps and develop improvement plans. Verifiers, who are also trained and qualified by ASC, independently assess progress and confirm if the farm meets improvement objectives and ASC covers the cost of verification.

“The launch of this framework for credible AIPs, together with the support and investment that ASC aims to provide to the sector, will be a game changer to the industry. Processors and seafood importers can now start an AIP within their supply chain and receive direct support from the ASC in the form of capacity building. Retailers and seafood buyers can now go to our website and see how AIPs are progressing, following independent verification and transparent reporting on progress.”

Roy van Daatselaar, ASC’s Global Lead Improver Programme

The ASC Improver Programme’s website and the “Find an AIP” tool allow businesses to monitor AIP progress worldwide. Seafood buyers are encouraged to direct their supply chain towards AIPs, enabling them to confidently make sourcing claims aligned with more responsible aquaculture practices.

Involvement of Thai Union and Other Companies:

Seafood company Thai Union, parent company of Chicken of the Sea and Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods in North America, recently launched their SeaChange® 2030 sustainability strategy, which aims to “help reshape the seafood industry with solutions across people and planet that better sustain a future for all”. As part of their commitment, Thai Union will be one of the first companies setting up an AIP under the Improver Programme by ASC, which aims to bring more than 4,000 metric tons of shrimp up to ASC certification and another 11,700 MT in volume implementing best practices in line with the social and water quality requirements of the ASC standards.

Blake Stok, the Director of Sustainability for Thai Union North America sees this as a way to build on the company’s achievements and continued evolution of their sustainability strategy SeaChange®, saying “Thai Union has committed its entire 2022 net profits of $200m USD to delivering the 11 interconnected goals of SeaChange®2030. In terms of responsible aquaculture, we have committed that 100% of our shrimp is produced minimizing ecosystem impact and meets current industry best practices in welfare and working conditions. While recognizing that not all farms are fit for certification today, we need to have options available to drive better practices and improvement. The ASC improver program provides a rigorous framework with a credible assurance system, which enables monitoring and tracking of time-bound improvements, giving us another tool to help achieve our goals.”

WWF will be working with partners to identify opportunities to engage in the ASC Improver Programme as ASC is looking to grow the program. “This will help end buyers to expand their sourcing to move towards more responsible farmed products that are on a pathway to enter the rigor of ASC full assessment and certification as well as encourage producers to engage in the program” says Michael Griff, WWF Director Seafood Markets.

Additionally, seafood buyers can track AIP progress and make informed sourcing decisions, contributing to a sustainable seafood industry. Together, with the involvement of companies like Thai Union and collaboration with organizations like WWF, the ASC Improver Programme is poised to play a key role in accelerating responsible aquaculture practices worldwide.