ASC label now allowing more parasites on factory farmed salmon

Farmed seafood certification body - The Aquaculture Stewardship Council - has increased the acceptable level of sea lice on farmed salmon by 500%

The problems associated with the factory farming of salmon are multiple, severe and may be getting worse. Awareness with consumers is increasing all the time as ongoing news stories, campaigns and petitions connect with ever more shoppers. Faced with this complex and troubling situation, what is needed is a fish farming certification body that shoppers can trust. Unfortunately, it seems as though yet another not-for-profit organization has handed over its power and integrity to the very industry it was set up to monitor.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council has increased the acceptable level of sea lice on farmed salmon by 500%. This will allow many poorly performing Scottish salmon farms to have ASC certification where they couldn’t in the past. This also means that UK shoppers will be eating factory farmed animals that have suffered worse parasite infestations than before.

Rachel Mulrenan, Scotland Director for WildFish, said: "The very theory behind certification is that it encourages companies to go beyond national regulation, and rewards them for doing so with market access. What we have seen with ASC's move in Scotland is the complete opposite of this.

"Lowering the bar on environmental standards, to enable more companies to become ASC certified by virtue of simply complying with national regulation, not only completely undermines the purpose of the scheme, but it is also a breach of the trust consumers place in ASC.

"If ASC is to be considered in any way to be protecting the environment, or the health of both farmed and wild fish, it should be driving continuous improvement in its standard, and ensuring the requirements of this standard are adequately enforced. Until this is the case, ASC certification is not worth the paper it is written on."

The previous limit of 0.1 adult female lice per farmed fish during wild fish runs was the same as the Norwegian national threshold. Fish farming companies have been lobbying the ASC to allow different thresholds in countries where the national regulations allow this. Of course, where the national regulations do not properly protect wild fish, as in Scotland, allowing farms to have more lice increases the risk to wild fish.

Previously there were almost no Scottish farms that qualified for ASC certification. Now, several have been certified with many more being audited. Some of these farms have appalling fish welfare records, to judge by their mortality statistics. The ASC scheme is lowered to national legal requirement and therefore on this specific point there is no benefit of the label.

As a result of this change, Fisheries Management Scotland (FMS), an establishment body that is usually relatively quiet on this kind of thing, has called out the ASC and withdrawn from supporting its certification scheme.

“No part of the revision meets ASC’s intention to protect wild fish.”


"Over the last two years, Fisheries Management Scotland have made several representations to ASC stating our fundamental opposition to this revised sea lice approach. It is disappointing and frustrating to see ASC approve this latest revision as it fundamentally undermines the integrity of the ASC scheme. Fisheries Management Scotland do not see ASC certification as a credible form of protecting wild fish.”

ASC was created in 2010 as a joint initiative between the industry and WWF Netherlands. Luckily there is a coffee table book to explain how wonderful the ASC scheme is:

“ASC celebrated its tenth birthday in 2020, and to mark the occasion we put together a coffee table book about the remarkable journey that took us from a need identified by WWF to the world’s leading programme for certifying responsible fish farming.”

As with many of these schemes (e.g. RSPCA Assured) the initial intention can be good but they are easily captured by industry. In April 2022 Sainsbury’s became the first supermarket to only sell ASC certified salmon. The ASC is revealed to be a valueless sticking plaster functioning only to help sell products widely understood to cause widespread harm. Supermarkets eagerly jump on the bandwagon. In these troubling post-truth-times for many of these big food businesses - it is only the profit that counts.