More than half the seafood we eat on this planet is farm-raised. As a result, aquaculture is an enormous, growing industry that must define and use the best possible management methods possible, in order to protect the environment. Organic aquaculture is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of the aquatic ecosystem, including benthic organisms on the ocean floor, seaweeds, aquatic plants, aquaculture animals and people.
Rich in flavour and packed with healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, Creative Salmon’s organic Chinook is guaranteed fresh year-round. Photo credit: Creative Salmon Co. Ltd.
Until a few years ago, the only organic seafood on Canadian market shelves was imported from Europe (mostly Scotland, Ireland, and Norway). But now Canadian consumers can choose domestic certified organic farmed seafood, including fin fish, shellfish and aquatic plants. The organic aquaculture standard—CAN/CGSB-32.312-2012, published by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) in May 2012—was crafted to respond to growing demand for organic food and to level the playing field internationally for Canada relative to other countries with organic aquaculture standards.
Canada’s organic aquaculture standard prohibits the use of antibiotics, herbicides and genetically modified organisms. Parasiticide use is severely restricted, as in the terrestrial organic seafood standard, CAN/CGSB-32-310; in aquaculture, parasiticides can be administered only under veterinary supervision as a last resort. The standard requires practices that demonstratively minimize the impact of waste, including defined stocking rates. The standard also stipulates the cleaning procedures and materials that operators must use for cleaning and feed in order to achieve compliance.
A short history of organic aquaculture in Canada
Creative Salmon operates four farm sites simultaneously in the waters of Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, BC. Photo credit: Creative Salmon Co. Ltd
In 1996, a handful of small like-minded companies began to discuss how to define organic seafood. The Pacific Organic Seafood Association, formed in 2002, developed a draft organic standard based on a global review of existing organic aquaculture standards.
Efforts originally focused on creating a provincial standard in British Columbia, and broadened in scope to create a framework for a national standard, with the formation of a CGSB committee in 2009. Three years, many conference calls, a face-to-face meeting, and two public comment periods later, CAN/CGSB-32.312-2012 was released.
Readers familiar with the organic agriculture standard will easily recognize similar elements present in the Canadian organic aquaculture standard. For example, the organic aquaculture standard requires producers to create and maintain a detailed organic management plan that outlines production and management practices including processing, handling, transportation, storage, record keeping and traceability. Organic seafood producers are subject to annual audits by their certifier. Just as in the organic agriculture standard, permitted and prohibited substances and practices are described and/or listed in detail. While its structure mirrors that of the Canadian organic agriculture standard, the content development for the Canadian organic aquaculture standard has also taken into account existing European and draft U.S. standards for organic aquaculture.
About two to three percent of Canadian seafood producers have chosen to pursue organic certification. These include producers of Pacific Chinook Salmon (BC), Sturgeon and Caviar (BC), Sablefish (BC), Trout (ON), Mussels (NL, PEI) and Seaweed (NB), as well as associated feed and processing facilities. Many companies are certified by SAI Global (Global Trust), which is accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Attempted merge of organic agriculture and aquaculture standards
Creative Salmon farm staff meet at the boat launch each morning before heading out to the farm sites in the waters of Clayoquot Sound near Tofino, BC. Photo credit: Creative Salmon Co. Ltd.
In December 2014, the Organic Agriculture Technical Committee raised the idea of merging the organic aquaculture standard into the organic agriculture standard. The planned merge was meant to streamline the implementation and maintenance of these organic regulations, to further harmonize domestic and international trade, and provide a more unified view of organic products for consumers.
A large working group (WG) was formed, with representatives from both the organic agriculture and aquaculture sectors. This WG prepared a draft version of the integrated standard for consideration by the combined Agri/Aqua Organic Technical Committee. But in May 2015, this committee decided not to complete the merge; in the immediate aftermath, the organic agriculture standard review was completed, and the organic aquaculture sector took away different points of clarification and structural revisions useful to continuing its development.
What’s next for the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard?
Similar to the early days of the Canadian organic agriculture standard, producers who claim organic status by following the Canadian organic aquaculture standard are not yet legally required to be certified. However, certification to the organic aquaculture standard will become mandatory sometime in 2016, when the new Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFA)—which will replace 13 federal food inspection regulations—comes into effect.
Equivalency discussions, first with Europe and then the U.S., will be the next step. At present, the draft American standard for organic aquaculture is moving through agency clearance, with the potential for an open comment period and a final rule in 2016.
The CGSB requires a review of all standards every five years; the Canadian organic aquaculture standard, due for that review in 2017, will actually get an early start in 2016, taking advantage of significant work that took place in the attempt to merge the organic aquaculture and agriculture standards. This timing will also align the future aquaculture schedule with that of the organic agriculture standard.
Organic operation profile: Creative Salmon
Creative Salmon’s certified organic Pacific Chinook are packed on ice before being trucked to the processing plant in Delta, BC. Photo credit Creative Salmon Co. Ltd.
Creative Salmon is North America’s only major producer of Pacific Chinook salmon, and Canada’s first farm-raised salmon producer to achieve organic certification. Based in Tofino, in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the Canadian-owned company has raised Chinook using sustainable methods for many years. A small fish in a big pond of large farm-raised salmon companies, Creative Salmon started working on developing organic production methods about 20 years ago.
Questions from the public on issues including fish health, humane treatment, and antibiotic use were addressed in the process of conforming to organic principles. After meeting all the criteria set out in the Canadian organic aquaculture standard, Creative Salmon launched its organic label in 2013.
Creative Salmon has differentiated itself through its commitment to excellent fish husbandry and its focus on valuing quality over quantity, a key to sustaining healthy fish production. Early on, the company adopted low-density rearing as a strategy to maximize fish health. Now, in order to meet organic certification requirements, organic fish must have about twice as much room to swim as conventional, farm-raised fish. In a low-density environment, fish occupy less than one per cent of the volume of the pen, even when fully grown.
More than 15 years ago, public criticism about antibiotic use prompted Creative Salmon to trial production without antibiotics. The trials proved successful, and the company has not treated its market fish with antibiotics since 2001.
Creative Salmon farm staff wait for their co-workers to arrive at the boat launch before boating out to the farm sites near Tofino, BC. Photo credit: Creative Salmon Co. Ltd.
As in organic agriculture, pesticide use is highly restricted under the organic aquaculture standard. Creative Salmon raises a Pacific species in low-density conditions in the Pacific Ocean, so its fish are adapted to the sea conditions, including a natural tolerance to sea lice, which means the fish don’t require treatment with pesticides.
The organic aquaculture standard prohibits the use of antifoulants on nets. At Creative Salmon, nets are cleaned by power washing with seawater or through exposure to natural ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Creative Salmon Chinook are fed a diet as close to the natural one as possible in a farm setting. Fish feed is composed of sustainably sourced fish meal and fish oil. Ingredients also include certified organic wheat as a binder and a naturally sourced pigment derived from yeast or bacterial cultures. Taplow Feeds, a major feed supplier—also certified to the organic aquaculture standard—is a valued partner.