Organic aquaculture

Organic aquaculture is becoming increasingly important as consumers become more environmentally aware, and concerns about sustainability and harmful impacts are becoming more prevalent [1]. Aquaculture has the highest rate of expansion[1] and Certified organic aquaculture products have been steadily increasing since the mid 1990s [2] It is gradually becoming more mainstream, especially in Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland [3] but most consumers are confused and sceptical about organically labelled product due to the conflicting and misleading standards around the world [4].

The aquaculture industries in general are still figuring out how to be sustainable, what best practices are and what ecological considerations is can or should be implemented. Current standards are often quite strict and some people argue they are unattainable (and therefore should be relaxed). As organic regulations are designed around soil-based systems, they don't always transfer very well into aquaculture [5] and tend to conflict with large-scale, intensive (economically viable) practices/goals. There is a definite consumer demand for organic seafood, and organic aquaculture may become a significant management option. Currently integrated aquaculture systems look like they will form the base of approved organic farming practice.


Production and Marketing

Organic aquaculture was responsible for an estimated US$46.1 billion internationally (2007). There were 0.4 million hectares of certified organic aquaculture in 2008 compared to 32.2 million hectares dedicated to Organic farming. The 2007 production was still only 0.1% of total aquaculture production [6]

The market for organic aquaculture shows strong growth in Europe, especially France, Germany and the UK - for example, the market in France grew 220% from 2007-2008 [7]. There is a preference for organic food, where available [6]. Organic seafood is now sold in discount supermarket chains throughout the EU [7]. The top five producing countries are UK, Ireland, Hungary, Greece and France [7]. 123 of the 225 global certified organic aquaculture farms operate in Europe and were responsible for 50,000 tonnes in 2008 (nearly half global production)[7].

Organic seafood products are a niche market and users currently expect to pay premiums of 30-40%[6]. Organic salmon is the top species and retails at 50% [7]. Market demand is drving Danish rainbow trout farmers to switch to organic farming [8].


There is some controversy over licensing restrictions, as some seafood companies propose that wild caught fish should be classified as organic [9]. This is a situation where the flexibility and ambiguity of the term 'organic' is clearly demonstrated. While wild fish may be free of pesticides and unsustainable rearing practices, the industry itself is not necessarily environmentally sustainable nor is it actually farming [9]. As a rule, Organic Aquaculture certification follows rather strict requirements and standards [1]. These rules may vary between different countries or certification bodies [1][7]. This leads to confusion when products are imported from other countries which can result in a backlash from consumers (for example, the Pure Salmon Campaign ).

Defining accepted practices is also complicated by the variety of species - freshwater, saltwater, shellfish, finfish, mollusks and aquatic plants. The difficulty of screening pollutants out of the aquatic medium, of controlling food supplies and of keeping track of individuals may mean that fish and shellfish stocks should not be classified as 'livestock' at all under regulations [5].

A number of countries have created national standards and certifying bodies. A number of ‘self-labelling’ organisations also exist at local scales in many countries. One of the largest certification organisations is IFOAM which supports and connects organic movements internationally. The variation in standards, as well as the unknown level of actual compliance and the closeness of investigations when certifying are all also variable, and are one of the major problems in consistent organic certification [10] [11]. In 2010, new rules were brought in on 30/06/2010 in the European Union to consistently define the organic aquaculture industry [7][12]. However, aquaculture was only first included in the organic agriculture standards in 2007 [7].

"Organic" has an official definition in the United States, since the 2008 organic aquaculture standards passed by the US National Organic Standards Board [13]. Canada's General Standards Board’s (CGSB) proposed standards in 2010 were strongly opposed because they allowed antibiotic and chemical treatments of fish, up to 30 percent non-organic feed, deadly and uncontrolled impacts on wild species and unrestrained disposal of fish faeces into the ocean. These standards would have certified net pen systems as organic, and most of the fish certiified would not have complied with the US organic aquaculture standards[13]. At the other end of the scale, the extremely strict national legislation in Denmark has made it difficult for the existing organic trout industry to develop [8].

Certifying bodies that cover or focus on organic aquaculture

Certification body Countries of operation No. of certified aquaculture farms Accredited for grower groups No. of certified groups Aquaculture commodities within the scheme Production (tonnes)
Agrior Israel 2 + 1 fish feed mill no NA Tilapia, carp, red drum, sea bass, sea bream, Ulva and Ulea seaweed 400
AgriQuality Ltd. New Zealand, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Malaysia yes Example
Bioland e.V. Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland no Example
Debio Norway 3 no NA salmon, trout, cod trout 0.5 salmon 120 cod 600
Instituto Biodinamico Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay yes
Istituto per la Certificazione Etica e Ambientale Italy, Lebanon, Turkey yes
National Association Sustainable Agriculture Australia Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands yes
Organic Agriculture Certification Thailand Thailand 1 (not under the IFOAM-accredited scheme) Example 0 nile tilapia and butter fish 8 000 litres (fish sauce)

Table from IFOAM: Annex 6. Organic schemes

Current and Future Research and Development

There are a number of problems facing organic aquaculture: difficulty of sourcing and certifying organic juveniles (hatchery or sustainable wild stock); 35-40% higher feed cost; more labour intensive; time and cost of the certification process; a higher risk of diseases, and uncertain benefits [6].

Various methods and complementary processes are being investigated for organic aquaculture, most notably Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture(IMTA) and aquaponics [15] (a land-based outgrowth of aquaculture in many places). Organic methods of farming various species are also topics of interest, particularly [[shrimp farm] shrimp]s [16], salmon[17] and Atlantic Cod[18]

Projects such as the Danish ORAQUA Project are unvestigating areas such as "Availability of relevant organically produced vegetables with a high protein content; The effect of the organic vegetable protein; sources on growth and digestibility in rainbow trout; The influence of organic protein and oil; eating quality; The influence of organic vegetables on the health and welfare of farmed fish; Optimizing the production by case studies of organic production systems"[8]

Potential Alternatives To Non-Organic Treatments and Processes

A great deal of research needs to be done into a number of areas around organic aquaculture. Current requirements usually stipulate a reduction in unsustainable fishmeal, in favour of organic vegetable and fish by-product replacements. A recent study into organic fish feeds for salmon found that while organic feed provide some benefit to the environmental impact of the fishes' life cycles, the loss of fish meals and oils have a significant negative impact [17]. Another study discovered that certain percentages of dietary protein could be safely replaced [19].

One major issue is finding practical and sustainable alternatives to non-organic veterinary treatments, feeds, spat and waste disposal. Potential veterinary alternatives include homeopathic treatments and production-cycle limited allopathic or chemical treatments [6]

Not only do the fish have to be organically reared, organic fish feeds need to be developed. Research into ways of decreasing the amount on non-sustainable fishmeal in feed is currently focussing on replacement by organic vegetable proteins. Some organic fish feeds becoming available, and/or the option of integrated multi-species systems (e.g. growing plants using aquaponics, as well as larvae or other fish). For example, locating a shellfish bed next to a finfish farm to dispose of the waste and provide the shellfish with controlled nutrients [9].

Known data on organic aquaculture by country


Country Organically managed area [ha][3]
Bangladesh 2'000
China 415'000
Ecuador 6'382
Indonesia1 1'317
Thailand 33
Total 424'732

1Indonesian Shrimp farms are locally certified as organic but a recent study found them to be highly environmentally damaging [16].


Current situation in Norway:[20]

  • Denmark: Rainbow Trout. Organic production ~400 tonnes (1 % of total trout production) [8]
  • UK:

Cod and carp[21] Trout[21] Salmon[21]

  • Rainbow Trout (Denmark) [8]
  • Salmon (80% of organic aquaculture production in 2000 [6])

and shrimp (Europe)[6]

  • Carp (low volume production, poorly marketed - Europe)[6]

North America

  • Shellfish: oyster, clam, mussel, scallop, geoduck seed (USA) [9]

Organic production of crops and livestock in the United States is regulated by the Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP). While it does cover aquaponics, it did not properly cover aquaculture until the recent 2008 amendment, hampering the progress of organic aquaculture in the states.


New Zealand

The first certified organic aquaculture farm in New Zealand was a salmon farm which was the largest producer outside of Europe contributing to the European market[22]. New Zealand green-lipped mussel Greenshell™ mussels - certified by Sealord (12), DOM ORGANICS Greenshell™ mussels, certified organic by Bio-Gro New Zealand Ltd. (BGNZ)

Salmon (14) 12 tonnes/year - Ormond Aquaculture Ltd certified (CERTNZ) organic freshwater aquaculture farm

Koura (freshwater crayfish) Still being developed - Ormond Aquaculture Ltd certified (CERTNZ) organic freshwater aquaculture farm


  1. ^ a b c d Bergleiter, Stefan; Berner, Nina; Censkowsky, Udo; Julià-Camprodon, Gemma (2009), "Organic Aquaculture 2009 : Production and Markets", in Naturland e.V.; Organic Services GmbH, Gräfelfing/Munich, 
  2. ^ a b Bergleiter, Stefan; Willer et al. (2008), "Organic Aquaculture", The World of Organic Agriculture., Frick; ITC, Geneva: IFOAM, Bonn and FiBL 
  3. ^ Aarset, Bernt; Suzanna Beckmann, Enrique Bigne, Malcolm Beveridge, Trond Bjorndal, Jane Bunting, Pierre McDonagh, Catherine Mariojouls, James Muir, Andrea Prothero, Lucia Reisch, Andrew Smith, Ragnar Tveteras and James Young. "The European consumers’ understanding and perceptions of the “organic” food regime: The case of aquaculture". British Food Journal (Emerald Group Publishing Limited) 103 (2): 93–105. doi:10.1108/00070700410516784. 
  4. ^ a b Mansfield, Becky (June 2006), "Organic views of nature: The debate over organic certification for aquatic animals", Sociologia Ruralis 44 (2): 216–232, 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Ribeiro, Laura; Soares, Florbela; Cunha, Maria Emília; Pousão-Ferreira, Pedro (20–21 January), "Organic Aquaculture: a strategy for valorisation of semi-intensive aquaculture?", International Workshop on Sustainable Extensive and Semi-intensive Aquaculture Production in Southern Europe, Tavira, Portugal: Stiftung Ökologie & Landbau (SÖL), 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "New organic aquaculture rules a route to a more sustainable and profitable future for aquaculture". European Commission Fisheries. 30 June 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Organic Aquaculture", The International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), 2007-2010, 
  8. ^ a b c d Downey, R, Developing Organic Standards for Molluscan Shellfish, 
  9. ^ "Organic Aquaculture: What's in a Label?", The Fish Site, 2008, archived from the original on December 2008, 
  10. ^ Martin, Andrew (28 November 2006). "Free or Farmed, When Is a Fish Really Organic?". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Real, Natalia (11 September 2010), "Organic aquaculture laws go into effect", Fish Info & Services Co.Ltd (FIS), archived from the original on 2010-07-09, 
  12. ^ a b Real, Natalia (11 September 2010), "Proposed organic aquaculture standards opposed", Fish Info & Services Co.Ltd (FIS), archived from the original on 2010-01-09, 
  13. ^ [|Victor, Gonzálvez] (2007), "Organic Farming in Spain 2007", FiBL, 
  14. ^ Diver, Steve (2006). Aquaponics—Integration of Hydroponics with Aquaculture. ATTRA. 
  15. ^ a b Rönnbäck, Patrik (December 2003), "Critical analysis of certified organic shrimp aquaculture in Sidoarjo, Indonesia.", Swedish Society for Nature Conservation(SSNC), 
  16. ^ a b Pelletier, N; Tyedmers, P (2007), "Feeding farmed salmon: Is organic better?", Aquaculture 272 (2): 399–416 
  17. ^ Birt, Benjamin; Rodwell, Lynda D.; Richards, Jonathan P. (2009), "Investigation into the sustainability of organic aquaculture of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua)", SSPP 5 (2), 
  18. ^ Lunger, Angela N.; Craig, S. R.; McLean, E. (June 2006), "Replacement of fish meal in cobia (Rachycentron canadum) diets using an organically certified protein", Aquaculture 257 (1-4): 393–399, doi:, 
  19. ^ Johnson, Kaare; Mohr, Emil (2000), "Organic Agriculture in Norway.", Bad Dürkheim, Germany: Stiftung Ökologie & Landbau (SÖL), 
  20. ^ a b c The Soil Association (May 2009), "UK Organic Aquaculture Market Report 2009", The Fish Site, archived from the original on 2010-07-09, 
  21. ^ "Feed World News: Organic salmon". Feed International 15 (4): 10–12. 1994. 

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