INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT - Bill
Bill More is the Director and
Vice President of the Aquaculture Certification
What is your certification
effort trying to accomplish and why?
certification effort is a process certification and it’s aimed at
three main areas. Areas like food safety and addressing sensitive
environmental and social issues, are what it’s focused on. The main
objective is to make sure that the product is produced through a
process. It results in not only being a safe wholesome product, but
also one that comes from a system that’s sustainable in terms of
environmental sustainability. The major social issues, which face
the industry, are being addressed and corrected.
What is the
name of your company, again?
Aquaculture Certification Council.
Certification Council, the ACC?
The ACC. We
actually have only been in operation since January of this year for
about nine months now.
is the same as the Global Aquaculture Alliance. In what way are
you independent from them?
stakeholders, unlike the GAA, come from all sectors of the industry.
We have another MGO, the Ocean Trust, as one of our stakeholders. So
we actually went out and formed the group. We looked at different
people from different industries, different universities, and
different MGO organizations. We brought in a group of stakeholders,
which came in from all sectors. As a nonprofit organization, the
main vision is to basically assist operations, put in the best
management practices, and become more sustainable in the way they
produce shrimp. We do all of this not only from the standpoint of
environmental sustainability, but also with food safety concern,
which is a big issue today among consumers.
What are examples
of better practices that satisfy environmental criteria?
One is the
Mangrove issue. We don’t allow any of our farms to cut Mangroves. If
they do cut them they have to mitigate and replace them. For every
one that they cut they have to replace three and participate in good
environmental stewardship. Another issue is that they can only use
larvae coming from hatcheries rather than using wild seed. We’re
trying to protect the industry and not over-extrapolate the wild
seed. There are also issues relative to sanitation and to the
community. We strive to be a good neighbor and not restrict the
rights or impair the rights of other people participating in similar
industries like charcoal production, fisheries, and other things.
So, there are several standards. Of the 12 main standards, there are
four community issues, five environmental issues, and three blue
safety issues. So it’s a very balanced program including social,
environmental, and food safety.
Have you made
progress in moving some of these countries towards greater sustainability?
We’ve had real
good reception. We started out in the Western Hemisphere last June,
and looked and certified forms here. More recently in November, we
moved to the Eastern Hemisphere to Bangladesh. We now have a very
impressive program that’s called the Seal of Quality program with
the Bangladesh industry. That really has taken off and has received
a lot of attention from other people in Southeast Asia. The people
from China and Vietnam have looked very closely at the program. They
have the same problems and needs as the industry in Bangladesh, so
it’s really addressing some of their issues. There’s even more
interest in certifying to make sure the product is safe to
Most of the
active environmentalists have put a lot of pressure on governments
to clean up their act, to become more sustainable, and not discharge
pollutants in the environment. They’ve tried to get them to stop
cutting the Mangroves amongst other issues. There has been very good
reception from mainly the farming community. Even from the farmers
themselves who are probably the guiltiest of violations of this
type. Processing plants don’t have a lot of violations. Sometimes
with human rights issues like child labor issues, but the farms are
the ones that have really been focused upon. They’re the ones that
use antibiotics; they’re the ones that cut the Mangroves. So that’s
the area of the most focus right now.
What percentage of
shrimp farms is in compliance with the majority of these standards?
single shrimp farm that’s in compliance with 100% of the standards,
but most of them are very close to compliance. With a little help
and assistance, they could move very quickly into compliance. In
Bangladesh alone there are 140,000 farms. It’s the single most
important industry of the country. So if you look at the number of
small farms, there are hundreds and hundreds of them in the Eastern
Hemisphere. In the Western Hemisphere most of our farms are bigger
farms. But in this Hemisphere alone there’s probably close to 5,000,
6,000 shrimp farms in Central America and Upper South
Are most of
them are in compliance?
Most of them are
in compliance with most of the criteria. By country there are always
different issues they have to address. Some countries have programs
in place already, which in some ways are as tough as some of the
standards or codes of practice that are international. Other
countries have been very lax installing these programs, so they need
more help than people in third world countries. They are obviously
much farther behind than the more developed countries. Industries in
Brazil and Mexico are well advanced; their practice is very
sustainable. They have good management practices. They don’t need as
much help as a country like India or Bangladesh requires. China and
Vietnam have a lot of issues that have to be resolved. So there’s a
big focus on them because they’re such big producers. They can
produce at very low prices, so they’re very competitive. But at the
same time they’ve been in violation of a lot of environmental issues
and social issues which have to be corrected.
What are the
The main issues
are child labor, taking property rights, minimum wages, health
issues, and making sure everyone has fresh water to drink. Many
farms don’t offer any fresh water. In the case of some farms, where
they live on the farm, there are not adequate living conditions and
meals. But most of them evolve around health, safety, and child
What are the
biggest challenges you face?
challenges we have right now is to convince the buyers that the
people that have made the improvements and produced a better, safer
product in a more responsible way, will be rewarded. We may reward
with a better price or preference for that type of product. We need
to get consumers to be well aware of the safety issues and how the
consumers are really the driving force of the market. We need to get
to the buyers, for them to work closer with the processors. We must
request products that are produced under the best management
practices in a more sustainable way and that are safer for the
consumer. We’re not having a hard time convincing farmers and
processors, or even the hatcheries and feed mills to participate in
the program. They need some incentive. Something that gives them
advantages in the future. To just be a good environmental company
sometimes is not enough, when their neighbor may be doing something
that’s not always up to par and at cheaper costs. We have to be able
to sell this program to the buyers and get them to commit to it.
This is one of our major focuses right now.
supportive, compared with other developing nations?
The industry in
Thailand, obviously, is very well developed. They have many small
farms, but there are also very large processing plants. The biggest
issue that Thailand has to face is the size of the industry. Even
though they have their own codes of practice, they really don’t have
anyone to police the efforts there. As a result, there have been
indiscriminate violations of uses of illegal antibiotics and other
things which have led to problems in the industry. The main problem
in Thailand is the fact that the product cannot be identified. The
farmer sends it to the depot, which then sends it to another depot,
and is traded or bought. So you have no idea where the product came
from. If you’re trying to trace it, and there is a problem with
antibiotics or other issues, you don’t know from where that problem
originated. That is one of the biggest issues we face in Thailand.
They are so large and they’ve outgrown the infrastructure to really
relieve poverty, provide jobs, and generally help the community?
question about that in third world countries; it’s very important to
them. Most of farming is not done in Mangroves, or not in areas
where you have agricultural activity. It’s done in areas where the
land has very little value and where there’s an environmental issue
to start with. So in these communities, the traditional fisherman
has an even more difficult time of making a living. It has provided
a lot of opportunity. For instance, in an operation that I ran in
Panama, we employed over 1000 people from a local community. The
unemployment in that community before we went there was about 80%.
So it’s typical of most communities, because most farming is done in
rural areas, where there’s very little job employment.
A lot of people
are seasonal workers like in the sugar cane industry. They work
about three months out of the year, and then the rest of the year
they don’t have any work to do. But in the shrimp industry, when
they come in, they provide year ‘round jobs, especially for women. I
would say in most aquaculture operations more than 60% of the
employees are women, especially in processing plants. Most of these
women are single unit families. They earn the only source of income
they have. So it’s been really important in third world countries to
find employment for women to support their families. It’s one of the
important issues that is not emphasized as much. You see a lot of
focus on some of the negative sides of displacement of communities,
violation of repairing rights, but basically the good things that
happen far outweigh those things.
you respond to critics that say some fish farms are highly instable?
The main thing
is that most of the information that’s published today always
focuses on the negative issues instead of the positive issues. If
they went to these countries and actually visited these operations
they would see that for every one bad farmer there are probably ten
good ones out there that are doing things right and are really
conscientious about their efforts. People really need to make known
some of these efforts rather than concentrating on the cases which
are really not more typical on the industry side.
Are the critics
right to complain about the problems of over-development?
In some cases
where there has been over-development and the industry has had to
cut back and white-spot has devastated a lot of the industry.
Probably in those cases the situation is pretty desperate, and there
are a lot of unemployed people. But in the other countries where you
do have sustainable industry, they’ve gone through white-spot.
They’ve been able to come back and manage it, and those industries
have grown again. For example, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Honduras are
all recovered from white-spot. If you look at the number of people,
their working force is increasing everyday. So if you talk to those
same people today, versus two years ago when they had white-spot, I
think you’d hear a different story being told. Thailand is an
example of a country that has over-developed. Now that they have
this development, a lot of farms are just not sustainable. They
can’t make a profit. They’ve had to shut down, and that has
influenced the local economy. There are a lot of other countries
where you don’t see that situation, in fact quite the contrary it’s
a reverse situation now.
the recent Thai Code of Conduct? It’s voluntary, so is it effective?
right, it is voluntary. There’s no way to enforce it. They don’t
have the people to audit, to make sure they’re doing what they’re
supposed to do, and to follow up. There’s no one to assist the
farmer in realizing the importance of following the codes of
practice or that he’s going to benefit from it. The amount of people
they have to put in that effort is just too small. That’s where
certification groups like the ACC and others can come in and help.
Not only do they help them with certification, but they help put the
practice into place in auditing and monitoring. This makes sure that
they follow the practices. Once they do that they’ll benefit from
them and you don’t have to tell them again. The codes of practice in
Thailand were good codes of practice. They just don’t have enough
people and enough teeth behind them to enforce them. We are talking
about a large industry with just a few people to assist; a lot of
people just don’t get the help they need.
Is your certification
for shrimp looking positive?
outlook is positive. There are still a lot of countries that need a
lot of work, but the overall look especially in the Western
Hemisphere is recovering well. The Eastern Hemisphere will be a
little bit slower. China and Vietnam need a lot of help. The real
determining factor is how fast they can start to put their practice
into place, and become good citizens that participate in the world
with the world environmental issues on hand.
The GAA helped
create the ACC, but now you’re independent. Can you explain that?
Yes, the GAA is
one of their subcommittees. The industry needs a lot of help in
terms of improving certification, improving the way we produce
shrimp, and addressing the environmental and social issues. The
charter of the GAA and stakeholders wasn’t really in the function of
what they could do within the framework. They wouldn’t be a true
third-party certification if they did it themselves. So they helped
to form a group of their stakeholders who came and put together the
company. Then they asked to bring in people from the outside to run
the company. We use independent certifiers. None of them are
affiliated with the GAA, and most of them are from a commercial
sector. I was a member of the GAA through my company and the
production business. So it’s completely independent. We do have a
couple of people on our board of directors who are also associated
with the GAA, but the majority of our stake holders are not
associated with it. They had a big influence because the codes of
practice and all that we started with came from the GAA. They were
developed by Doctor Boyd who acts as a consultant for them. But
we’re completely independent from them. They’ve allowed us to use
the codes to establish good practices.
importer of shrimp remains Thailand?
number one, and China has some potential to catch up but Thailand is
still number one. In the Western Hemisphere Brazil has taken over
and passed Ecuador as the number one exporter. But I think of the
top five, four of them are from the Eastern Hemisphere. In the East,
China and Vietnam are really producing a lot of product, but
Thailand is number one.
is the number one supplier of farmed shrimp, how does a consumer
avoid the problems of farmed shrimp from Thailand in their buying
That is one of
the major issues that has to be addressed, because obviously buying
such a large volume of product in the market place — Thailand gets a
lot of publicity. But there are a lot of good producers in Thailand
and they’re doing things right. For every bad producer you’ve
probably got four or five that are trying to do things right and
become more sustainable; they’re trying to put good practices in for
many reasons. A lot of it just has to do with making more money,
more profit for themselves. But in making more profit, they’ve had
to become more sensitive to the issues and have tried to become
better environmentalists. They have become more sensitive to the
community issues indirectly, but regardless they’re still addressing
these issues; they’ve had to in order to survive. You’ve got
countries like China and Vietnam who are creeping up on them. They
can produce cheaper and they’ve really had to become aware of what
they have to do to maintain that leadership position.
say that the average consumer thinks that buying farmed shrimp is
helping ocean habitats by not contributing to the by-catch problem
This has become
such a sensitive issue at the consumer level. It’s the consumer
that’s really driving this point home and the buyers now have to
be very sensitive. When they buy a product, they want to know if
it comes from an operation that is safe to consume. The buyers are
spending a lot of money testing products from Thailand. Almost every
container coming out from that part of the world gets testing from
independent third party laboratories. We want to feel comfortable
that that type of testing is more reliable. So they’re spending
a lot of money to make sure that the product they do buy is safe.
When they have to spend money they’re going to pay less money to
the Thai people who are producing the product. So the Thai’s are
very sensitive to that issue and they’re trying to clean up. They
have an image to maintain in the market. They must make sure that
they are not in violation because that can cost them money in the
Do you have
anything to add?
You might want
to take a look at what is happening in Brazil or Mexico with the
industries there, because they’ve learned from the people in
Thailand. When they built their operations, they built them to
eliminate some of the mistakes that were done in other parts of the
world, especially in Northern Mexico. If you go there and look at
their farm operations, they have put everything in place. Where
other people have made mistakes, they have taken and learned from it
and they’ve built very sustainable operations. These were built in
such a way that they can address environmental issues. New
countries, that are expanding the business and where it’s really
growing, you should take a look at what their doing. They’ve learned
their lesson from what’s happening in some of the operations that
have been around a long time. The white-spot disease in the Eastern
Hemisphere was almost devastated. It took them three or four years
to recover. Many operations did not recover. Near 1999 it hit the
Western Hemisphere, and five years later it’s beginning to recover.
It has forced
the industry to take new steps to preclude this from happening
again, or to learn how to live with it and manage it. They’ve
learned that they have to protect the environment and many of the
problems that caused white-spot were induced by farms discharging
their own wastes. Hundreds of farms were re-pumping each other’s
water. The environment became overwhelmed by diseases and became a
major issue. The shrimp really didn’t stand a chance. So if you
improve the environment you reduce the stress on the animal, so I
think we’ve learned a lot. The farmers have learned a lot from
what’s happened in the Eastern Hemisphere. They have been able to
apply that to different parts of the world. Thailand still has a
very sustainable industry and they will continue to lead the world
for some time, but there are a lot of other countries that are
beginning to catch up. They have put less focus on the environmental
issues because they are addressing those up front instead of waiting
for some regulator to come and tell them — you have to clean up your
What are Sri
Lanka, Bangladesh, China, and Brazil, learning?
A lot of them
still don’t have the resources in place or technical systems to
apply and expedite the process. They are certainly learning from
them; they are watching and trying to see the mistakes they have
made and learn from them. The social issues are major issues in
Bangladesh. The environmental issues are really not a major issue in
Bangladesh, but they are serious issues in China and Vietnam, so
there is a different set of issues you have to address. I’m sure
they have learned from Thailand, everyone watches Thailand; they are
trying not to repeat some of the mistakes they were making.