The ASC eco-label’s new sea lice limits protect salmon farmers, not wild salmon
In British Columbia and globally, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) eco-certification continues to lower their bar on the criteria net-pen salmon farms should meet in order to be certified. This time, in the new Salmon Standard published this September, they do so by allowing fish to be certified as “responsibly farmed” as long as they meet sea lice limits set by governments. These are the exact same limits that have failed to protect juvenile wild salmon from sea lice outbreaks; and they are an order of magnitude higher than the limits in the original Salmon Standard. The new standard is set to take effect from February 1, 2023.
For BC farms, the change doesn't mean much. The ASC had already begun allowing BC salmon farms to be certified if they met Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) ’s sea lice regime - with bad results. Since 2015, salmon from ASC farms with dangerously high lice loads have been sold into the marketplace with their “farmed responsibly” label. There were next to no repercussions for certified farms who breached DFO’s three motile limit, from either DFO or ASC. Instead, wild salmon paid the price (as well as none-the-wiser shoppers).
Perhaps in acknowledgement that giving the green tick to salmon with high lice loads doesn’t look too great, the ASC has introduced a new 21-day deadline for farms to bring lice levels down below the limit or face not the loss of labelling privileges. While this hopefully means we will no longer see ASC-certified farms with sea lice levels as high as 31 lice per fish entering the marketplace, nothing prevents a farm during the three-week period from harvesting and selling their fish with the ASC label.
During the consultation phase of the sea lice changes, multiple conservation groups criticized ASC’s move to simply defer to local regulations – arguing that ASC should go beyond regulations to be considered credible. Unfortunately, the ASC did not heed the conservation community’s calls. Instead, it appears they chose business-as-usual practices over wild salmon protections.