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World Wildlife Fund Developing Global Standards for Aquaculture

Draft Standards for Shrimp Will Be Ready Soon



On May 15, 2007, I interviewed Jason Clay, Vice President of Markets, at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which operates in more than 100 countries, employs 4,000 people and advocates “a future in which humans live in harmony with nature”.  WFF has received a one-year, $1 million grant from the Packard Foundation ( to develop global aquaculture standards—and it’s already working with shrimp farmers in Madagascar and Belize on the development of the shrimp standards!  WFF wants an open dialogue with all stakeholders while the standards are being developed.  Clay argues that shrimp farmers will make more money if they set higher standards!  Most, if not all of this, will come from being more efficient.


Shrimp News: Will you receive any other funding?


Jason Clay: Yes, we have a pledge from the Packard Foundation for a second year of funding, and we’re soliciting producer groups and seafood companies to match Packard’s grant.  No one group will be allowed to contribute more that a quarter of the cost to develop the standards for a particular species.


Shrimp News: Will they be general standards for all species?


Jason Clay: No, they will be species-by-species.


Shrimp News: How many standards will there be for each species?


Jason Clay: There will be one set of standards for each species.  The goal is to measurably reduce the six to eight, maybe ten, key impacts for each species.


Shrimp News: Do you plan to certify shrimp farms?


Jason Clay: No, within the certification community, it isn’t considered ethical to set up standards and then be the entity that certifies against them.  We will be working with all the stakeholders to develop the standards and then hand them off to another entity to develop the certification program.  Standards development and certification need to be at arm’s length.  There needs to be a firewall between the groups that create standards, the group that holds the standards and the groups that carry out the certification of farms.


Shrimp News: What’s the time frame for the development of the standards?


Jason Clay: We hope to have standards set for basa, catfish and mollusks within a year.  We’re also working on standards for ten other species (or species clusters) and hope to have them finished and ready to hand off to a certification body in two to three years.  WWF has a history of developing certification standards.  We helped develop and spin off the Forest Stewardship Council standards, and we worked with Unilever in the United Kingdom to develop the Marine Stewardship Council and then spun it off as a separate entity.  If we don’t find an entity in aquaculture to take on the standards, we will help create one.


We originally thought that the ideal situation would be to work with an existing organization like the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and the Aquaculture Certification Council (ACC), but after continuous interactions with GAA and ACC over the last five or six years, we have given up on that approach.  We don’t find their approach to be credible.  The cozy relationship between GAA and ACC makes us nervous.  Furthermore, the standards development was not sufficiently multi-stakeholder or transparent.  That’s why we are looking for other organizations to carry out a new certification program based on our standards.  We’re considering two prospects right now.


Shrimp News: What if a group of shrimp farmers wants to establish higher standards than those developed by WWF?


Jason Clay: That would be great.  We would just encourage them to use our standards as a base and then modify them upwards.  Shrimp farmers in Madagascar are taking this approach.  They want to be “best in class”.


Shrimp News: Give me an example of some of the standards that are being considered for the shrimp farming industry?


Jason Clay: Pond survivals.  They are an indication of water quality, feed management and overall management.  Siting is another.  We don’t want shrimp farms to be destroying high conservation habitat.  We want farms above the high-tide line, which means there will be no issues with mangroves and mud flats.  We will look at the way ponds are built, feeds, diseases, chemicals, antibiotics, water exchange and effluents.  We’re also interested in shrimp farming’s carbon footprint, how much carbon it takes to produce each pound of shrimp.  Social issues, mangroves, access, labor—all have to be on the table, but we will focus only on the most significant impacts and then use performance standards to measurably reduce them. Researchers will help define and determine credible parameters for each of the impacts.


Shrimp News: How far along are you with the standards for shrimp farms?


Jason Clay: We’re working with shrimp farmers in Belize and Madagascar to adapt draft shrimp standards that came from the work of the World Bank, FAO, NACA and WWF Shrimp Aquaculture and the Environment project.  We will be field-testing draft standards in the next few months.  Next, we’re going to talk with shrimp farmers in Vietnam and Thailand, to get their input on draft global standards.  One of our goals is to look closely at how small-scale shrimp farmers might be integrated into the standards.  We’re going to concentrate on the farm because that is where the most significant impacts are, not feed mills, hatcheries and processing plants.  This is not a program to guarantee health and safety issues or product quality issues.  Any company that leaves that to someone else is not likely to be in business very long.


Shrimp News: What have you done in Belize?


Jason Clay: We’ve done a farm-by-farm survey of environmental impacts of shrimp aquaculture in Belize, summarized that data, and are now developing standards around it.  As shrimp farming goes, Belize is one of the better countries in terms of producing shrimp with impacts that generally fall within a range of what is acceptable.


Shrimp News: Will the standards for Belize and Madagascar become part of the public record?  Will you post them to your webpage?


Jason Clay: Absolutely, once they have been discussed with the shrimp farmers and the drafting has moved forward, they will become part of the public record, and we will post them to our webpage for comment.  In fact, one of the things that we have pledged to do, once we get the standards online, is to develop a communications process—both electronic and in person—where researchers, farmers, the seafood industry, and other interested stakeholders will be able to provide feedback.  Unlike other standard-setting bodies, we will respond to the comments saying why we did or didn’t accept them because that’s what credible standards development is all about.


Later when the standards are implemented, aggregate data will be published—without mention of individual farms—so that people will be able to see what the performance is, what the issues are, and what regions of the world are doing better than others.  Again, this is what credible programs do.  We will be transparent.  We will not hand off our standards to an entity unless it incorporates not only them but the thinking behind them into their certification program.


Shrimp News: I get the impression that these are not going to be universal standards, that you are going to have different standards for Madagascar and Belize.


Jason Clay: No, that’s not the case.  The global principles, criteria and indicators will be the same for every country, but the performance levels may differ for monodon and vannamei.  They are different species and have different requirements.  Different production systems, for example, extensive, semi-intensive, intensive and super-intensive farms are likely to have different performance levels.  For that reason, performance standards might have to take into account different levels of intensity.  As field test standards, we’ll look at these and other issues to see how they will have to be adapted for specific places.  Everything must be a transparent process.  People must be able to see what’s going on.  The playing field must be global so that we don’t favor one group over another, or give any group a leg up in competition.  Also, it is important to remember that we are basing our standards on what is already technologically possible and is being done by some producers.


Shrimp News: When will the draft standards for shrimp farming be announced?


Jason Clay: I think the draft standards will become available in the next few months.  Our standards will be significantly different from other standards that you have seen.  We are really trying to keep things simple, so that it’s no burden on shrimp farmers.  We want to use data that are already being collected by farmers.


We want measurable standards.  We’re not going to tell farmers how to meet the standards, we’re going to develop the standards and let each producer use the best management techniques available to achieve them.  Our standards will not be based on production processes.  They will be based on measurable performance results.  We don’t care how the farmers achieve them.  For us, for example, it’s important that survivals are high.  We won’t tell people how to achieve high survivals; we’ll just look at the results.  We will have effluent standards, but, again, we will not tell farmers how to achieve them.  We will set a standard for feed, and let the farmers decide how to meet it.


Shrimp News: What are you trying to accomplish with these standards?


Jason Clay: Our focus is to reduce the key environmental and social impacts of shrimp farming.  To do that credibly, we think you have to employ measurable parameters.  We can’t measure everything, and we don’t want to make it so expensive that farmers, especially small farmers, can’t afford to do it.  In some cases, we might take an area approach for small farmers, so forty or fifty farms could be grouped together.


About Jason Clay: Dr. Jason Clay is vice president of markets at the World Wildlife Fund and the leader of WWF’s network on aquaculture and agriculture.  Clay studied at Harvard and the London School of Economics before receiving his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1979 in anthropology and international agriculture.  In 1999, he co-created a consortium with the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the National Aquaculture Centres of Asia/Pacific and World Wildlife Fund to identify and agree on the key environmental and social impacts of shrimp aquaculture and to analyze management practices that measurably reduce them.


Information: Jason Clay, World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington DC 20037-1193 (phone 202-778-9691, email, webpage


Sources: 1. Jason Clay, telephone interview by Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International.  May 15, 2007.  2. The Webpage of the World Aquaculture Society.  Aquaculture 2007 Plenary Session Presentation (  Site visit on May 26, 2007.


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