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Statement on changes to ASC certification standards

The Atlantic Salmon Trust’s mission is to halt and reverse the decline in wild Atlantic salmon and sea trout through science and action, and our work spans all of the accepted ‘Pressures on wild Atlantic salmon’ as identified by the Scottish Government in their Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy published in January 2022. Among these accepted pressures are sea lice, and the Scottish Wild Salmon Strategy states clearly that sea lice can ‘impair performance and can kill salmon smolts above threshold levels.’ Given this threat to our already struggling wild salmonid populations, it is clear that these thresholds should be as strict as possible.

In September 2022, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), a certification and labelling scheme whose stated purpose lies with ‘certifying environmentally and socially responsible seafood’, published an update to their Salmon Standard. The ASC made considerable updates in Appendix III-3 ‘Sea Lice Thresholds for Sensitive Periods’ which in our view are at odds with Principle 3 of the Salmon Standard which the ASC states exists to ‘ensure that salmon farms do not harm the health of wild fish populations’.

Previous iterations of the ASC’s Salmon Standard set a threshold for the maximum on-farm sea lice level during sensitive periods, and for ASC certified farms in areas with wild salmonids, to 0.1 mature female lice per farmed fish. This threshold level was set after the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue produced a Sea Lice Technical Report which recommended this level to be a ‘concerted precautionary approach’.

It is the view of the Atlantic Salmon Trust that the recent changes to the ASC Salmon Standard to set the threshold level for Scotland at 0.5 mature female lice per farmed fish, a five-times increase, now mean the ASC certification has lost credibility when it comes to the protection of wild fish.

The ASC based this elevated level on the Scottish aquaculture sector’s ‘Code of Good Practice for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture’ – an industry-led, voluntary certification scheme, which has a far higher lice threshold than other international standards, notably Norway with 0.2 adult female sea lice per farmed fish. The Code of Good Practice, and therefore the ASC certification in Scotland which follows it, therefore does not represent the strictest standard nor a responsible precautionary approach.

Furthermore, the ASC will allow farms as long as 21 days to reduce lice levels back to below this already elevated threshold, representing a further watering down of the standard. In addition, a clause exists whereby farms can apply for an exemption if a veterinarian or fish health professional exempts fish from treatment, allowing these farms a period of 14 days to reduce lice levels back below the threshold from the first day that treatment is possible. It is the Trust’s view that these extended periods of time could present significant danger to wild salmon and sea trout smolts during their migration through the possibility of highly elevated lice levels.

It is the view of the Atlantic Salmon Trust that the dilution of the ASC’s Salmon Standard means the ASC is not a world-leading credible certification when it comes to protecting wild salmon and sea trout.

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