Aquaculture is probably the fastest growing food production system in the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 50 percent of the world’s seafood is grown in nets, man-made ponds, or tanks. And while farmed fish and shellfish can provide sustainable protein, industry practices can have profoundly negative impacts on communities and the environment. These include increased conflicts over land and water use, disruption of local ecosystems, and the overfishing of wild fish to feed farmed fish.


The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) asked CBI to help design and facilitate a meaningful stakeholder engagement and negotiation process to create voluntary standards for the way salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and other species are farmed. WWF, together with other actors, launched the Aquaculture Dialogues as a multi-stakeholder process. Environmental advocates, along with industry and technical experts, could jointly define the practices to which the industry should aspire. The process required transparent outreach to key actors, as well as thoughtful deliberation and negotiation inside steering committees empowered to define the standards for each species. Once negotiated, the standards were taken up by a new entity, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which oversees the certification process of fish farms that can brand their product with an ASC label.

The Aquaculture Dialogues have stood out amid a crowded field of certification schemes because they focus on measurable environmental and social standards created through multi-stakeholder negotiation. Having critics at the table meant that the standards were more credible among civil society groups, while having industry involved meant that companies would be more likely to invest in certification. This kind of consensus-based initiative requires facilitated dialogue that includes strategies to overcome mistrust, address technical disputes jointly, and develop creative solutions to tough challenges.


From 2008 through 2012, CBI worked successfully with multi-stakeholder steering committees to complete agreements on draft standards for six species: pangasius, mollusks, shrimp, tilapia, salmon, and freshwater trout. ASC today manages one of the world’s leading certification and labelling programs for responsible aquaculture, which certifies 516 farms producing nearly 1.2 million metric tons of seafood.