Initiative to set global certification standard

Seafood is an international commodity and a new benchmarking initiative for certification programs aims to help buyers compare the product credentials no matter where they came from and who certified them

By Catherine Norwood

Around the world there is a multitude of seafood-related certification systems in operation – more so for wild-capture fisheries than for aquaculture.

Herman Wisse
Photo: FRDC

Certification systems cover a range of areas from environmental sustainability and management of fisheries, through to chain of custody and traceability, which can make it very difficult to assess the value of one program against another.

Ironically, what was intended to provide certainty for consumers has created confusion along the entire supply chain. The Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) is looking to clear some of the confusion.

The GSSI was formed in February 2013 to develop a consistent global benchmarking tool that will provide transparency between labelling and seafood certification programs.

The GSSI benchmarking framework consists of different criteria and indicators based on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) guidelines Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries and Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification.

The initiative has three expert working groups – one for aquaculture, one for fisheries, and one for the procedural, institutional and evaluation processes of seafood certification. Together they are developing the global benchmarking tools to assess and identify the differences in certification programs.

Program partners come from all sectors of the fisheries and seafood supply chain and stakeholder communities, including retailers, seafood processors, food services and NGOs.

GSSI program manager Herman Wisse was recently in Australia to present a workshop on the draft Benchmark Framework for Aquaculture Standards at the World Aquaculture Society Conference in Adelaide. This marked the beginning of public consultation on both the aquaculture and marine-capture fisheries draft standards.

During his visit to the conference, Herman Wisse also participated in the FRDC’s first webinar to explain the aims of the program and the consultation process.

The FRDC is among the many organisations to make a submission to the consultation process. In the past year, the GSSI has worked intensively with stakeholders in the global seafood supply chain, including industry, public institutions, NGOs and academia, to develop the first draft of its benchmarking tool and get feedback from as many stakeholders as possible.

As a ‘work in progress’ there are still areas where perspectives differ and stakeholders continue to work towards consensus. The consultation process and pilot testing is expected to help resolve some of these issues.

The consultation process closed in August and included structured stakeholder consultation, as well as an open call for public comment to solicit comprehensive feedback.

By reducing confusion and providing transparency, the GSSI aims to facilitate more efficient decision-making and application of seafood certification programs worldwide.

The ultimate goal is to ensure consumers retain confidence in the supply and promotion of sustainable seafood, and to promote improvements in the certification and labelling programs.

A revised version of the benchmarking tool is expected to be finalised by the end of the year. 

Guidelines for the Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries

Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification

About the GSSI benchmarking tool

The recent draft of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) Benchmarking Tool for seafood certification schemes has three main components.

  • Benchmark framework: this component outlines the requirements for responsible seafood certification schemes.
  • Benchmark process: this component outlines the process by which seafood certification schemes will be objectively assessed against the requirements of the GSSI Benchmark Framework.
  • Public recognition: this component outlines GSSI’s process for communicating benchmarking results of seafood certification schemes that have successfully undergone the benchmarking process.

FRDC Research Code: 2012-746

More information

Herman Wisse,
GSSI Website