First ever responsible standards give hope to beleaguered farmed seafood in the Coral Triangle

Penang, Malaysia – Fish farmers and fish feed producers from the Coral Triangle region today released a draft of the inaugural fish farming Standards for grouper, snapper, and sea bass also known as barramundi—popular farmed seafood species in dire need of better management.

The draft Standards is the product of a two-day Aquaculture Dialogue, which marked the first of what is deemed to be a series of regional dialogues designed to enable a range of stakeholders to actively participate in the development of best-practice Standards for these farmed species. The goal is to have the Standards in place and utilized by 2015.

“The need for more responsible farming of grouper, snapper, and barramundi has been identified in recent years by government and non-government agencies and more recently, by a more vocal industry, in response to both environmental and market access issues,” said Carol Phua, WWF-Malaysia’s Marine Programme Head.

While best aquaculture practices for grouper have been previously developed by other regional bodies and have been used to work with farmers to notionally improve farm operations, measurable standards for this suite of species have not previously been discussed and drafted. 

“The emphasis of previous programs has been on the management of small-scale farmers and on livelihoods, but the rapid growth in commercial-scale farming and the impacts of these farmed fish species in particular, on the marine environment has necessitated us to look more deeply at measures that can help us address this industry’s poor sustainability record,” added Phua.

High demand, high footprint species

Grouper is one of highest-valued species of economic importance in the world. In the past decade, the global production and output of grouper aquaculture has developed rapidly, especially in China and Southeast Asian countries. At face value, figures suggest an increase in overall production between 2000 and 2010 of more than 700 percent. 

“Grouper, snapper, and barramundi farming have significant environmental impacts, and yet no collective efforts have been made to reduce such impacts,” said Dr. Geoffrey Muldoon, WWF Coral Triangle Strategy Leader.

Adverse modifications to natural habitats, harmful impacts of pollution and waste discharge, drug and chemical use leading to poor water quality and fish health, removal of juvenile fish from the wild before being able to replenish fish populations, and heavy dependence on fish feed are just some of the numerous problems plaguing the farming of these species.

“Such unsustainable practices are not only threatening the biodiversity of the Coral Triangle but also the livelihoods dependent on these resources. Implementing measurable and performance-based Standards for responsibly-farmed seafood is of critical importance, not only for Malaysians but for the wellbeing of all in the Coral Triangle,” said Phua.

“The countries of this region see the export of grouper, snapper, and barramundi as continuing to contribute significantly to their respective  economies, however the markets into which these products are being sold are increasingly demanding better performance. We see these Standards helping the sector to expand in a responsible way that minimizes environmental and social impacts,” said Dr. Muldoon.

The participants of the dialogue collectively agreed for the standards to address the following issues: natural habitat and local biodiversity conservation; socially-responsible farm operations; sustainability and traceability of feed ingredients; and fish health maintenance, among others.

The long-term goal is to evolve these Standards to the extent that they will be recognized by global certification bodies such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)—the most credible certification and eco-labelling organization for farmed seafood, and international Standards setting bodies such as ISEAL.

The dialogue was officiated by Dr. Afif Bahardin, Penang Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee Chairman. 


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