Aquaculture is the aquatic equivalent of agriculture. The process leading to the development of Canada’s organic standard for aquaculture began about 20 years ago. Several small fish farmers in British Columbia began entertaining the idea of applying organic livestock growing principles to fish. We reviewed the principles and standards which were being used for rearing organic livestock and plants and began to adapt the principles to our fish farming operations. As with all new ventures there were a few successes and a few tragedies but we were eventually able to rear all forms of aquaculture products including; fish, shellfish and plants using organic principles. This group of farmers, farm suppliers and processors formed an organization to foster the cooperation of the participants and as a vehicle for developing a standard. This was the Pacific Organic Seafood Association (POSA)
The next step in the process was to become certified which meant that we had to develop a standard. In order to develop an acceptable standard POSA first established a working relationship with the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia’s (COABC) standards committee. Over a period of about 5 years we had several meetings and developed a draft standard. At about this time the new Canadian Organic Standards were introduced and the COABC made a decision to no longer participate in the development of organic aquaculture standards and limit their participation to involvement in the new national standard.
The aquaculture community who had developed the draft standards with COABC were still very interested in having a recognized and auditable standard which would result in certification. POSA held a national workshop with interested individuals from across the country and this led to the development of a draft national standard which combined the organic aquaculture standard from Quebec with the POSA standard. In Canada, the governing body for national standards is the Canadian General Standards Board or CGSB. The CGSB has a well-developed process which was used for the development of the general organic agriculture standard and the same process was used to develop a parallel organic standard for aquaculture.
Following about 3 years of meetings and standards drafting the CGSB had a formal workshop to finalize the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard. This meeting included stakeholders from the organic community, environmental groups, consumer groups and government agencies as well as fish and shellfish farmers and aquatic plant growers. From this gathering the first standard for organic aquaculture in North America emerged.
Since the standard was produced in the spring of 2012 a number of organic fish, shellfish and plant producers have become certified and are supplying Certified Organic Aquaculture products primarily to the Canadian and American markets. Canadian grown organic aquaculture products currently being supplied to the Canadian market include: Chinook salmon, rainbow trout (steelhead), sablefish, sturgeon, sturgeon caviar, mussels and seaweed.
Going forward there is a lot of potential to increase the production of aquaculture products using organic principles. Canada is now in a position to be a leader in organic aquaculture production. It will take some time to grow the organic market for aquaculture products just as it took time to grow the market for other organically farmed foods. Canadian organic aquaculture producers are now positioned to meet the demands of this growing organic food sector.