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Heather Jones, CEO of the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), has created a new definition of a sustainable approach to UK finfish farming. “Sustainability is a loose concept that a lot of people use, but it can mean very different things. Given its central role in the future of aquaculture, it was imperative to provide a considered, all-encompassing definition, with a high degree of consensus, of what it means for finfish farming in the UK”, she said. With this new definition, SAIC is calling on UK aquaculture to embrace and further develop a new conceptual framework that could underpin a sustainable future for the sector.

A combined 828 years’ experience

Among its key themes, the definition created by the SAIC CEO (you can read it at the end of this article) addresses the important role that fish farming plays in providing a source of high-quality protein as an integral part of the food system. According to it, the main issues to be addressed under the heading of sustainability are environmental concerns – including the minimization of carbon emissions – the prioritization of animal health and welfare, and the key contribution of feed sustainability to the achievement of national Net Zero targets.

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The definition is part of Heather Jones’ recent master’s thesis at the University of St Andrews and is based on a deep understanding of aquaculture nationally and globally. Its development involved 35 hours of interviews with dozens of aquaculture experts and stakeholders with a combined 828 years of experience. The SAIC Board, which includes respected personalities from aquaculture and academia, has endorsed the definition, which is already being adapted and adopted by various industry stakeholder organizations.

Foundation stone for aquaculture sustainable future

“It was particularly important to ensure it was informed by insights from many of the people who best know the sector”, Jones said. “With so much buy-in already, we hope this will become a foundation stone of our work to enhance the environmental and economic sustainability of the finfish sector. But, it is not an answer in itself, so we want the Scottish Government, sector companies, academics, and the wider stakeholder community to build on this starting point”, she added.

Heather Jones, SAIC CEO and author of the new definition of a sustainable approach to UK finfish farming. Photo: Chris Watt Web.
Heather Jones, SAIC CEO and author of the new definition of a sustainable approach to UK finfish farming. Photo: Chris Watt Web.

According to Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre CEO, ultimately it is about consumers having confidence in the quality of the food they eat, in this case, salmon and trout. However, while the definition initially refers specifically to finfish production in the UK, SAIC has expressed interest in also working with the seafood and seaweed sectors in the country, as well as aquaculture sectors around the world, to tailor the definition to their circumstances. “Like any good definition, it should evolve and improve over time and there is potentially broader value from this research through the creation of definitions for other sectors within aquaculture, as well as globally”, Jones claimed.

A definition supported by the sector

As mentioned, this new definition of a sustainable approach to UK finfish farming is already being adapted and adopted by a number of organizations interested in the sector, such as the seafood processor Aquascot. “This definition, built on different perspectives from across our sector, is a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion of the sustainable pathway for our sector”, said its partner and head of aquaculture, Andrew Davie.

Malcolm Johnstone, director of aquaculture at RSPCA Assured, spoke along the same lines. “In my opinion, the definition includes all the relevant and wide-ranging factors that need to be considered. These include benefits to the consumer, local and regional considerations, ethics, outcomes, innovation, knowledge, scientific data, governance and, perhaps most importantly, fish health and welfare”, he said.

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A NEW DEFINITION OF A SUSTAINABLE APPROACH TO UK FINFISH FARMING: 
A sustainable approach to farming finfish in the UK operates over the foreseeable long term* to produce high-quality food that is safe to eat, accessible to consumers, and provides omega 3 micronutrients essential for human life. The sector is valued for the wide-ranging and shared national benefits it provides in terms of societal health, fair employment, financial stability, and prosperity for individuals, businesses, and communities, and for its adoption of new technologies to minimise negative environmental impacts.
Prioritising animal health and welfare, it converts ethically and sustainably sourced inputs into beneficial outputs, whilst minimising waste across the global supply chain. It pursues net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in producing food. It uses resources efficiently and effectively, without causing cumulative irreversible harm over the long term. It monitors, manages, minimises and mitigates local environmental impacts within agreed and acceptable levels. It adapts to climate change, and seeks to enhance biodiversity and ecosystems, either directly in the vicinity of farms, or indirectly via displacement, reducing impacts associated with alternative forms of food production.
Management of the sector draws on the best available scientific data and ethical understandings to co-produce knowledge that commands the confidence of society. Governance systems are fair, coherent, participative, transparent and trusted. They respond to evolving consumer expectations around food sustainability, and to the views of local communities and wider society, from which social licence to operate derives. Collaborative investment in innovation, technology and skills enables the sector to continuously improve, operating at the cutting edge of farming and regulatory practice, demonstrating global leadership in aquaculture.
*Foreseeable long term defined as a human lifetime of 80-100 years.
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