TRANSCRIPT - Dr. Jason Clay Interview
Jason Clay is the Senior Fellow at World Wildlife Fund.
Could you talk about the need for certification?
I think the
main role of certification for aquaculture is going to be to move
the industry towards better practices. Certification itself would
be based on the creation of better practices by different species.
I think what we're really doing is trying to spawn innovation. With
government regulations, you can force producers to do things that
are minimally acceptable. You can get them to adopt good practices.
certification, you can actually identify better practices. Things
that are going to reduce the cost of production reduce the impacts
of production and really have a potential to play them out through
the whole industry. Because they're marketplace, that makes more
sense to do it this way, because you make more money.
Will this cost a premium price?
My sense is
on certification, there may be a premium price initially. That's
not clear. It's not clear though, even if the premium price would
offset some of the initial costs. I think over time, though, what's
going to happen with certification is that it's going to encourage
practices that cost less. So you're going to have fewer inputs.
You're going to have resources used more efficiently. You're going
to have waste turned into by products that you can sell or you can
use to offset some of your other input costs. Those are the kind
of things that I think are going to happen.
I don't really
look to a big price premium. If that happens that's great. But in
declining commodity markets where the price is going down year after
year, decade after decade, from 1900 to present, I think that even
getting today's price tomorrow is going to be a premium and that's
where I think certification can help producers too.
Certification results in a label on a product in a store, correct?
I think the
goal for certification should be that a product is sold, either
in a store or in a restaurant with a label to identify that this
product was produced under better practices. That's the only way
the consumer is ever going to know that there is an issue here,
that there's better products and worse products and there are better
production practices and worse production practices.
What are the main criteria for the better practices?
would be that this entity that is certifying the product has identified
that 8 to 10 major environmental and social impacts of producing
this product. Whether it's shrimp, or shellfish of some kind, seaweed,
whatever; that these 8 to 10 impacts are the core of the certification
We would be
identifying principals and criteria that address those 8 or 10 impacts,
but also measurable standards that actually show what the impact
of the production is visa vi those 8 or 10 criteria. That to me
is if we are buying an eco labeled product, we want to know that
it has an impact on the environment. You don't know that unless
you measure it. You can have a production process that is very interesting
like "we don't use these kind of inputs, these kind of feeds"
or "this kind of water exchange", but in the end you have
to measure what the impact is. That's what makes it credible.
actually be measuring against these standards. You would, I think,
have to have a minimal performance on any of the 8 or 10 standards
in order to be certified. It wouldn't just be a sum of the minimal
performance, because we would want you to do better than that on
average. Because if you do well in some categories, you're going
to do worse in others, we know that. So we would allow you to get
by with a minimal score for certain standards. But across the board,
it's got to be better than average.
How would you track fish from international locals?
I think certification
for shrimp is probably a lot easier than some of the big fisheries
that are being certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Shrimp
is generally processed in boxes that are one, two, or 10 kilos,
which means that each of those boxes has a bar code on it. The bar
code actually traces the shrimp, not just back to the processing
plant, but actually to the pond it was produced in, and the cycle
of production. That's how exact you can be with bar codes now. So,
I don't think that that's going to be a big issue.
Now, you could
have fraud, you could have multiple bar codes being printed for
product that wasn't - but that's why you have to have inspection
of processing plants and those kinds of things in place. The biggest
issue, I think, is a co-mingling issue where you've got shrimp coming
into a processing plant from different producers, or where you have
shrimp coming off of a wild caught trawl, coming into the same processing
plant. There you are going to have to have serious systems to keep
the products separate. Have the plant operate on different days
for different kinds of product. This is standard, though, with organic
processing. This is standard with other kinds of eco labels. It's
not rocket science; you just need the systems in place.
How would certification help the problems of small operations
I think that the history of animal aquaculture to get the kind of
quantity of production we need and to get the quality of production
we need, we're moving into larger and larger units. You don't see
small farmers growing pigs in their back yards for sale into markets
anymore. It's industrial hog operations. The same with live stock,
other kinds of livestock, I think, where shrimp operations could
play a role or have a future, is that they can get together. They
could actually begin to operate as co-ops. They could begin to bring
their water in together, and to use the discharge systems together.
They could even begin to develop processing plants and value added
processing together. They could get a stake in a processing plant.
So they had some kind of an equity position in the value that was
added to their product. There are ways that small producers can
take advantage of global markets. Most people aren't thinking of
those right now. Most people are trying to survive. I think that's
fine for the farmer, but somebody's got to be thinking about it.
So, if it's
not the government of Thailand, then maybe it's a business association
or maybe it's somebody that sees sustainable production and having
relationship with producers over decades, is more important than
having a cheap crop for one year. Now, Vietnam has a totally different
system. Vietnam has a lot of small farmers, but they produce on
very huge areas. So, Vietnam has 25 percent of the shrimp farmers
in the world. Also about 25 percent of the total land in production
as well. It's amazing to only produce 8 percent of the shrimp. So
Thailand has a lot more intensity and can do a lot more damage from
an environmental point of view from pollution and effluence. But
Vietnam does much more damage from simply the impact on the habitat
where they are clearing much larger areas to produce shrimp at all.
Even in areas
where they are doing rice and shrimp culture it is devoting huge
amounts of land to a very small amount of production. However it's
worth it to them because they can make money-growing shrimp at global
prices, because the economy of Vietnam has such a low per capita
Is Vietnam headed for the same mistake as Taiwan and Thailand?
Taiwan collapsed because of the intensity of the systems they were
using and because of the carrying capacity of those intensive systems.
Vietnam has much, much more land than either of those systems ever
had in production. But their potential to collapse, is just because
of the scale. So the carrying capacity of having huge areas of land
in shrimp will become an issue over time.
What about the different labels that already exist?
compared six different shrimp labels to see what the strengths and
weaknesses are of the different labels. One or two are organic;
a government in Thailand sponsors one. A grocery store chain in
France sponsors one. One is sponsored by the global Aquaculture
Alliance. It seems to me that none of these labels are acceptable
from the point of view of - do they address the major impacts of
shrimp aquaculture - on the one hand. None of them really do with
measurable standards where every principal and criteria has a standard
that can be measured.
None of them
have been particularly transparent or inclusive in terms of how
they've been created; somebody with an interest has created each.
So an organic body that wants to buy and sell has created it. A
grocery store chain that wants a certain kind of product for itself
has created it. The industry has created their own, Thailand has
created its' to showcase Thai shrimp. Those are major issues. We
think that if you're going to create a credible certification program
for Aquaculture you have to involve a lot of people who have an
interest in the performance of the industry.
You've got to
realize from the outset that you can't ever speak to everybody.
Today, we have means to get more people involved than ever before.
You can post your draft standards on the Internet and invite comment.
And then you can show how you use those comments or why you use
it or why you don't. You don't have to take every comment seriously
because some of them are going to be off the wall. But there are
good comments out there. There are a lot of people thinking about
these issues and they need to be brought into the process. It will
give any label more credibility to involve a wider range of people
to have an interest in sustainable shrimp aquaculture.
What about industry created certification programs and labels?
I think the
industry can actually address a lot of the technical issues of shrimp
production within ponds, and that's kind of where some of the certification
programs that industry's working on have headed. They are going
to need to involve a lot more people to look at the social issues,
and the socioeconomic issues, as well as the unanticipated environmental
issues that are beyond the engineering or the feed requirements
and those kinds of things. More importantly I think the industry's
not going to look at cumulative impacts. It's never the first shrimp
pond, or the hundredth shrimp pond. It's the thousandth or the ten
thousandth one that's going to cause the problem. It's the same
way with salmon farming or scallops. It's the intensity of systems,
but it is also just how many there are.
What about socioeconomic criteria?
There are several
concerns about socioeconomic impacts of aquaculture in general and
shrimp aquaculture in particular. In the first instance, they're
created. These ponds are created right on top of areas where people
have lived or made a living or collected resources they have depended
on for their own livelihoods. So, that's a big impact. Most of those
people are never included in the shrimp industry. They are explicitly
excluded. They're kicked off the land. They're not hired as laborers.
They don't really want to be laborers. They don't want to work 9
to 5 or more likely 8 to 8 at night.
I think that
in addition to displacement and natural resource conflict kind of
issues, the are also the issues of "Isn't there more that shrimp
farming can do to benefit it's own workers and the communities where
its based." Some of the research that's gone on so far, has
shown that shrimp farming has a tremendous positive impact, often,
where the owners are enlightened on infrastructure. Getting electricity
into areas, getting health clinics into areas, getting schools set
up and getting roads that are more functional and passable than
the existing roads. Likewise, I think, shrimp farms can also have
benefit programs where there are worker incentives.
paid more if they produce more. These aren't sweathouse or put out
systems where you work to the bone to get minimum wage. There's
good evidence that shows that shrimp farms can be as much as four
times profitable as their neighbors by having worker benefit programs.
The workers make three or four times as much money too. So these
are kind of win - win situations. Something that hasn't really been
explored yet is the question: are there ways to give workers equity
holding in shrimp companies or give smaller producers equity ownership
in processing plants?
Those are the
kind of things that could bring other benefits to local communities
in the form of income. The only place where communities really have
equity in shrimp operations in a large scale is in Mexico where
communities own 70% of shrimp farms or in joint ventures between
communities and companies. There the average income is phenomenally
higher than neighboring communities, three to four times higher.
The shrimp certification that we've talked about so far has really
focused on reducing the total amount of feed used and the amount
of fishmeal and fish oil that's used in the feed. We haven't focused
yet on the sources of the fishmeal and the fish oil.
has been if you can get the total content down, that that's a least
a first step in the right direction. Remember, we're talking about
better practices here. We may be decades away from the best of systems.
But at least better is a heck of a lot better than worse. We're
finding shrimp operations nowhere. Seven kilos of wild fish are
used to make a kilo of shrimp. That I think ought to be acceptable
in anybody's book. The big carnivorous fish feed aquaculture operations
are going to have a much harder time to get down to those kinds
of ratios. If they do it's going to be because they have new technologies,
new sources of amino acids and new sources of protein.
Some of which
may be biotech. Some of which may be newly refined processes that
give you products that can be used in fish feed formulation. I think
the different aquaculture industries need to have their feet held
to the fire on this one. They need to get more efficient. More efficient
is always better environmentally. We don't want to see four kilos
of wild fish converted into one kilo of farmed fish. That's not
going to be something that's ever going to be certified. The feed
issue's important because feed is also a potentially incredible
source of contaminants in seafood. Things like PCB's and dioxins,
which are in wild caught fish when they're rendered into fishmeal
or concentrated. When they are fed over time to either shrimp or
salmon or other carnivorous or omnivorous species become concentrated
My sense is
that a certification program should be certifying the feed on the
way in against PCBs and dioxins and it should be required of the
feed manufacturers. I think also, the cortication program needs
to be doing enough testing of its own product that it certifies
the product that's being sold as a certified product to not have
certain contaminants. Now this raises all kinds of liability issues,
it raises all kinds of issues. But it seems to me that at the end
of the day, the consumer is buying a product not a process and they
want to know that the product is healthy and safe for them and their
children to eat. And if you can't say that, I don't think you have
any business in an eco label business.
What about new aquaculture practices?
Well, I think
the future of shrimp operations is going to be more capital intensive,
more information intensive. But I don't think they're necessarily
going to be uniform. I think we're going to see a lot of different
things out there. I've seen an operation in Belize that I think
is state of the art that produces shrimp with very little water,
with very little feed. It uses a fair amount of energy. Those are
the kind of trade offs that we've got.
I think that
one of the principles that we should look for in any aquaculture
is, can they produce more and more of the feed that's being consumed
on site. If you close the system, and you begin to use bacterial
flock, and if you can begin to grow some of the bacteria in the
water column, then you can reduce your fishmeal use and your input
use a lot. More importantly you're cleaning up your own potential
effluent before you even release water. There are systems that are
producing 40% of their own feed now. If they could produce 80% of
their feed, we'd be talking about something different because this
wouldn't be an issue anymore.
Anything to say about the overall shrimp Aquaculture industry?
I think the
biggest change in the industry is that the price of shrimp is no
longer going up. The price of shrimp is going down and with declining
price it means producers have to get more efficient. That's good
for the environment. They have to use feed better, they have to
be smarter about it, and they have to reduce their production costs.
I think that's pushing them in a much more sustainable direction.
That's a huge issue. It also means that some of those hidden costs,
those sunk costs that you wouldn't think about. If you could produce
shrimp and only produce three crops on a piece of land and make
money, you would be willing to do that forever.
These days the
price of shrimp is so low, that if you cleared a mangrove and produced
shrimp for 3 years on it, you would lose money. It wouldn't be a
viable operation. You've got to be able to produce shrimp five to
ten years to begin to make money on the same piece of land. That's
a good thing. That's going to push the people on marginal lands
out of production, land that shouldn't have been farmed, ever. What's
gong to happen to that's another whole issue. Will it be put back
to nature? Will it be kept as an investment for some other kind
of aquaculture? That's another issue.
Are Mangroves still an issue?
a very big issue. Is it a reality? Much less so. The problem with
a lot of environmental groups and a lot of news groups is that they
go to the literature. Anything that's in publication now, even recent
things, is based on data that's five to ten years old. There have
been some really major changes. When the Global Aquaculture Alliance,
an industry based group, said that they would not allow shrimp to
be farmed and certified by them on Mangrove areas that sent a signal.
The biggest reason that Mangroves aren't really used, at least by
large operations, is because it just doesn't make sense. If you're
investing anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 a hectare to get a shrimp
farm started, you want it to last 20, 30 years. You want it to last
until you decide to produce something else on it.
You don't want
it to go out of production in three to five years. So, that's a
big issue. The other thing that's happening is that smaller farmers
simply are not getting into the business the way they used to. The
prices aren't as attractive, the inputs are more expensive, and
the margins are gone. It's really discouraging for those kinds of
producers. So, you lose that potential source of income for development
purposes and we've got to figure out, is there another way to address
equity issues within shrimp aquaculture. It could be worker equity;
it could be bonuses, incentive programs, and this issue on processing
plants, equity for producers for workers, and those kinds of things.
Those are ways to benefit from an industry that generates a lot
of cash flow.
Are the huge financial institutions bankrolling shrimp aquaculture?
I think in the
early years, in the 70s and 80s, the Asian Development Bank, the
World Bank was involved in some direct shrimp loans. In the 80's
and 90's the World Bank was involved in some sectarian loans to
fisheries, part of which went into shrimp. I know that the IFC is
actually doing some investment right now in some shrimp operations
but their criteria are pretty ridged. I'd way; they're probably
supporting the kinds of shrimp farms that I would be more interested
in. I've actually, I know a few of the project that they are looking
In the whole
history of shrimp farming, I would doubt that multilateral banks
and development banks have put more that one or two percent of the
investment in the shrimp industry. The industry has been too valuable.
There's just too much money to be made growing shrimp historically
that you can find money many places. The return on investment in
an average shrimp farm has been 25 to 35 percent. It's hard to get
data about how disease affects shrimp farming profits. It's catastrophic
in one year but most farmers don't expect to make money every year.
What about lower tropic species?
I think aquaculture
should be driven by what there's market for. There are markets for
fish for food and shellfish for food. Depending on where you are
in the world, the market may be more profitable than other places.
So there are those markets. There are certainly markets for feed.
I think aquaculture really needs to look at growing microorganisms
to feed other aquaculture. I think that's a huge business. Growing
artemia, plankton, phytoplankton, and those kinds of things. This
would be good business.
We also need
to look at growing, if you will, perhaps, trash fish or other organisms
that can clean up the waste of aquaculture operations, and themselves
be converted into fishmeal or fish oil, so that the industry becomes
more self-sustaining in that sense. Not the same species, we don't
want to feed one species to itself. This is what caused mad cow
disease, and some other things like that. But, we need to look at
aquaculture not from what we think we can grow but from the point
of view of what we think we can sell. What the world wants to buy.
Do you think consumers are ready to try lower species of fish?
The answer is,
it depends. If you feed me a plate of oysters on the half shell,
I'll eat them. Scallops, you bet. Abalone, yep. Mussels, no problem.
Am I going to go out and buy carp and eat it? Don't think so. Did
a lot of that as a child. I don't really have any interest in returning
there. Catfish? Maybe on occasion if it's really spiced up and has
some interesting things done to it. Tilapia? In a pinch. Those are
not the kinds of fish that most people are going to a white table
clothed restaurants in the US and Europe and expect to buy when
they buy finfish. We have to figure out how to produce fish that
are not the lions and tigers of the sea, but are something above
the lowest tropic levels.
Have we got anything to learn from the Chinese?
China's a lot of things, China's the perfect metaphor for Aquaculture
because can you can find something to a say about Chinese aquaculture
that will take any position you want on aquaculture. If you take
shrimp in China, for example, Chinese White Shrimp are produced
extensively on 90% of the land that's devoted to shrimp aquaculture.
They are produced by themselves. They account for about 20% of production.
Imported vandemai now from the Western Hemisphere is produced on
about 10% of the land, yet accounts for 80% of total production.
intensively, aeration and all those kinds of things. It's a totally
different system. They do have "polycultural" kinds of
production systems, but that's not where most of the production
comes from. That's certainly not where the market oriented production
and much, and definitely not the export-oriented production comes
from. So, if you're looking at oysters, it's huge areas that are
devoted totally to oysters. If you're looking at shrimp for export,
even shrimp for domestic Chinese consumption, it's always monoculture.
So there are a lot of different things that go on in China. And
again, half of Chinese aquaculture by weight is seaweed.
Do you have any more comments on certification?
Let me talk
a little bit about what were doing on certification and why. Coming
at aquaculture from an environmental organization point of view,
we're interested in what the environmental impacts are. That's what
drives the species that we focus on. In the case of shrimp, we focused
on shrimp aquaculture because we saw that as being a better way
to produce shrimp than shrimp trawling. It didn't mean that it didn't
have problems, but we thought the problems were solvable. We don't
think they are with trawling, by in large. I think it's also fair
to say that most environmental groups focus on salmon and salmon
aquaculture because there are big environmental problems.
But from a strict
certification point of view, scallops, abalone, oysters, mussels,
and clams are 'slam-dunks' from a certification point of view. There
are environmental issues. There are carrying capacity issues, but
nothing like the more complicated shrimp and salmon stories. Likewise,
Tilapia, catfish, even trout, because it's so well regulated have
far fewer impacts. Most of them can be addressed, I think, in ways
that people would find acceptable. Now again, if we use certification
to improve production, rather than try to create perfect production,
we will be able to certify products and move the industry along
very quickly in many of these species. That's why we really want
to focus on what the major impacts are. Let's make sure we address
them, and move on.