This article is reprinted from The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture1

It is based on an article prepared by

Ziad H. Shehadeh, Fishery Resources Division



Few countries have appropriate legal frame-works and policies for aquaculture. Often, compre-hensive policies and associated legal frameworks have been overlooked because develop-ment has been seen mainly in technical terms and support has been largely focused on technical aspects of production. Also, policy-makers have often treated aquaculture in isola-tion from other sectors, thus ignoring important linkages, including externalities. The need to incorporate political, economic, social, environmental and legal aspects has been neglected, usually with negative consequences for the sector. The recent emergence of industrial aquaculture, the growing competition for resources and

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credit and markets. This presupposes that there are functioning channels of commu-nication with institutions and representatives of other competing sectors of the economy.

In creating an "enabling environment", it is essential to strike a balance between the need for development and growth and the need for ecosystem conser-vation. In this context it is necessary to recognize and deal with the increasing competition for resources. The diminishing role of the public sector as a promoter of development and the globalization of markets must also be taken into consideration.

the continuing rapid growth of the sector have focused attention on the need for policy measures and regulatory frameworks.

It is essential that appropriate operational conditions are established at all levels (international, regional, national, local and farm) to help make the exploitation of aquaculture in a sustainable manner attractive to farmers, fishers and other entrepreneurs. Governments need to create and maintain a suitable climate for sustainable growth of the sector, i.e. they need to provide an "enabling environment". Such an environment comprises economic, legal, social and physical components and should ensure, inter alia, fair access to resources, mechanisms for conflict resolution and access to information,


The complex task at hand is to put the principles of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries into operation; i.e. to clarify how sustainability choices might work in practice; to incorporate the Code’s principles into development policies and plans; and to elaborate specific codes of responsible practice containing norms, standards and guidelines agreed on by all stakeholders. Given the diversity of aquaculture practices and of the political social and economic conditions in which they take place - not to mention the different perceptions of sustainability - balanced and informed approaches are required to address developmental and environmental issues


effectively at any one location. Furthermore, the applicability of various approaches needs to be assessed carefully, particularly where many small-scale farmers are involved and also in view of the often highly decentralized nature of the aquaculture industry.

Existing administrative and legal frameworks need to be reviewed and adjusted to address the specific characteristics and needs of the sector and to set forth clearly the privileges and responsibilities of aquaculturists. However, because aquaculture is frequently regulated by many agencies under a variety of laws, developing a comprehensive regulatory framework for the sector is often legally and institutionally complex. Typically it involves drafting or amending legislation that addresses a variety of issues and establishing institutional arrangements to ensure the cooperation and coordination of many different institutions with jurisdiction over natural resources, animal and public health, environment, etc.

Although new national laws to regulate aquaculture comprehensively may be desirable in many countries, other options are now being explored because developing and passing new comprehensive legislation often takes several years, while the prospect of rapid development of the sector has created an urgent need for regulation. These options include the enactment of regulations under existing legislation, and voluntary approaches such as guidelines and codes of practice.

The formulation of appropriate regulations in many countries is constrained by a shortage of information on the interaction of aquaculture production systems with the environment and on the environmental and financial efficiency of alternative approaches to production management. Even where information is available, reliable predictive models for aquacuIture-environmental interactions still require considerable improvement with regard to their accuracy, general applicability and affordability.

There is also an associated need to strengthen institutional capacity to manage the sector and to expand the knowledge base in order to enable sustainable development policies and plans. There is a general recognition of the need for interdisciplinary and intersectoral approaches to development and resource management in aquaculture. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that sustainable aquaculture development cannot be regulated solely by governments but must involve many interest groups at the national, regional and international levels, including new institutional arrangements and partnerships (consultative frameworks). This is being highlighted

contraction of governments’ role in development.

Consequently, there is a growing and urgent need to create new knowledge and to synthesize information from a broad spectrum of disciplines so that decisions can be based on a much broader perspective and understanding. It is also important to ensure a flow of information among different sectors and interest groups.

Intensive aquaculture production systems is currentlnternational trade, including in aquaculture products, is governed, inter alia, by the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). This agreement recognizes the right of World Trade Organization (WTO) members to apply legitimate measures to protect the life and health of their populations from hazards in food, but stipulates that these measures must not be unjustifiably trade-restrictive. SPS measures must be based on risk assessment, taking into consideration the techniques being developed by relevant international organizations. In regard to food safety, the relevant international body is the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAQ) in regard to animal (including fish) health and disease, the relevant organization is the International Office of Epizootics (OIE). International safety standards and procedures specific to aquaculture products are increasingly being developed in the context of these instruments. It is important to note, for example, that application of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system to fish processing operations is becoming mandatory in a number of countries. The application of the same system to large-scale and/ory being explored and applied in some countries. However, use of the HACCP system in smallscale and subsistence aquaculture is far from a reality at present, as the application of aquatic animal health and disease control regulations is constrained by poor diagnostic capacity (including trained human resources, standardized diagnostic techniques and infrastructure) in many developing countries as well as a lack of reliable information on pathogens and diseases of concern to traded species.

In regional and international trade in aquaculture products, friction over differences in environ-mental standards among countries is best attenuated through improved coordination and harmonization. If environmental standards are to be raised over time, countries - particularly those with less demand for environmental goods - will need to be encouraged to raise their standards through a variety of appropriate support

mechanisms, for example guarantees for expanded access to the markets of countries with higher standards.

The expected increase in competition for, and regulation of natural resources clearly calls for greater production efficiency and the conservation of critical inputs. This should be a priority topic for systems research. Efficiency in resource use may also be achieved by integrating aquaculture with irrigation systems and agriculture as well as by utilizing inland surface waters and floodplains for certain forms of aquaculture production.

New forms of integrated aquaculture agriculture systems as well as other innovative systems that can effectively respond to resource and environmental challenges need to be developed. In this connection, attention should be given to resolving the economic and environmental challenges of stock enhancement and ranching as well as of offshore cage culture.

The reduced role of government in financing fisheries and aquaculture has resulted in the cessation of public support to resource-poor fish farmers, the negative effects of which may be counteracted by special policy instruments designed to promote training and equitable income distribution and to facilitate access to information, credit and inputs needed in production. 


The Code is beginning to have a worldwide influence on the development of an enabling environment for sustainable aquaculture; however, much remains to be done. More progress can be expected as guidelines are developed on how to strike a balance among economic, social and environmental concerns, how sustainability choices apply in practice and how to analyse the economic cost of resulting actions.

Certain states have initiated national measures such as workshops to promote the Code and some NG0s, including producer groups, have developed or are developing codes of conduct and practice for particular aspects of aquaculture. Examples of these are: an implementation plan for the code for marine fisheries and marine aquaculture in the United States2; a code of practice for mangrove protection by the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA)3 ; a code of practice for Australian prawn farmers4; codes of practice for cage culture of finfish and pond culture of shrimp in Malaysia5; and guidelines for sustainable industrial fish farming6.

by ongoing structural change, namely privatisation and the

Over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in many countries to develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for aquaculture that will protect the industry, the environment, other resource users and consumers. This interest is being driven by a variety of factors, including: greater political attention as the economic importance and potential of aquaculture become more apparent; greater awareness that inappropriate laws and institutional arrangements can significantly constrain the development of the sector; evidence of environmental damage and social disruption as a result of rapid and largely unregulated expansion of some high-value species in certain coastal areas; and a growing emphasis on assuring the quality and safety of aquaculture products in international trade. Some of these issues were debated at an FAO Technical Consultation on Policies for Sustainable Shrimp Culture, held in Bangkok at the end of 1997.

Progress is also being made in the establishment of legal and regulatory frameworks for aquaculture in individual countries. Among these are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and Suriname. The Government of India has set up an Aquaculture Authority, which will license the adoption of improved technology for increased production and the establishment of new farms within and outside the Coastal Regulation Zone. In India, the Tamil Nadu Aquaculture (Regulation) Act of 1995 sets out conditions to improve siting and management of aquaculture facilities and establishes an Ecorestoration Fund, supported by deposits from aquaculturists, to remedy environmental damage caused by aquaculture farms.

Concerning quality and safety of aquaculture products, FAO is currently involved in revising the FAO/WHO Code of Hygienic Practice for the Products of Aquaculture under the auspices of the Codex Committee on Fish and Fishery Products. International meetings continue to be held as part of efforts to develop risk analysis for food safety, synthesize and to disseminate information on food safety (including food production from aquaculture) and address any related issues7.

Meetings focused exclusively on aquaculture have covered subjects such as the use of chemicals8, environmental impacts of coastal aquaculture9 and food safety issues associated with products from aquaculture10.

In the United States, the industry and government have succeeded in developing comprehensive HACCP plans for cultured catfish, crayfish and molluscs. A similar approach is being


introduced   in Australia,Chile ,New Zealand,Norway and Thailand. The EC currently imposes detailed conditions on the handling, slaughter, inspection, processing, packaging, identification and storage of fishery products11, and applies stringent controls to the animal health conditions applicable to the marketing of aquaculture animals and products12. FAO, the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and OIE are collaborating to develop guidelines on aquatic animal quarantine and health certification to be applied in Asia when moving live aquatic animals.

There is increasing interest and hence a growing experience in the incorporation of aquaculture activities in resource management for coastal and inland areas. Integrated resource manage-ment forces long-term planning (e.g. through the designation of zones where different users will have priority), which provides predictability required for any long-term investment while also reducing conflicts among actual and potential users. A variety of tools are being used in the planning process, including: geographic information systems (GIS); predictive systems for assessing carrying capacity (particularly for finfish cage culture and mollusc culture); and environmental and social impact assessments.

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An example of what can be done to integrate aquaculture into resource use plans is provided by the Australian State of Tasmania. Under new legislation (notably the 1995 Marine Farming Planning Act and the 1995 Living Marine Resources Act), marine farming development plans must be designed to cover areas rather than sites, and broad community participation in the preparation of such plans is also provided for by laws. An environmental impact assessment must be carried out and a marine farming zone established before leases are granted to marine farms.

Progress towards participatory planning has been reflected in the growing participation of NG0s, farmers’ associations, researchers and public officials in national, regional and international fora, particularly for the development of codes of practice and conduct and the formulation of regulations and legislation. There has also been progress in the development and testing of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and rapid rural appraisal (RRA) methodologies, and of concepts and possible local structures for community management of resources.


Sustainable development is the overriding strategic issue and challenge to all economic sectors, including aquaculture, and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Issues of sustainability can be expected to change our perceptions of desirable forms of aquaculture development and management, and new ways of farming that strike a balance between food security and the environmental and resource costs of production will have to be adopted. In the future, and with the growing trend towards ecolabelling, the longstanding goal of producing particular species at competitive prices is, in itself, likely to be insufficient for realizing full market potentials. In the future, acceptable sustainability credentials will probably be as essential as quality and safety standards are today.

In the short term, the elaboration of legal and regulatory frameworks, particularly in developing countries, will be the probable outcome of local social pressure and environmental and public health standards associated with trade in aquaculture products (e.g. in the case of shrimp and Atlantic salmon). This development will provide a window of opportunity to begin the process of providing the sector with a specific identity in national development - which could eventually be expanded to cover the entire sector.



Politically ,food production will remain an overriding priority, and intensification as well as diversification in food production will both constitute important approaches to development. The move towards intensification in aquaculture is evident in many countries, and this trend will probably continue. This will promote investment in research, which will eventually lead to improved production efficiency, as in the case of Atlantic salmon and American catfish. It will also enhance integration with agriculture for the compatible multiple use of resources and for the utilization of by-products and unconventional inputs in general. In industrialized countries, competition for quality freshwater and suitable production sites will lead to an increased use of recycling systems and to more intensive research in open sea aquaculture. The extent of the challenge to aquaculture development will depend on the nature and magnitude of available resources as well as on the existing competition for these resources and the aquaculture development policies adopted at the national level. Finally, increasing privatization and the contraction of the role of governments in development are likely to worsen the situation of resource-poor artisanal and subsistence fish farmers in the near-term unless specific action is taken to deal with this problem.


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1 FAO,1999. The  State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 1998. Rome, FAO. 112 pp.

2 Government of the United States. 1997. Implementation Plan for the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service. 20 pp.

3 Anon. 1997. Global Aquaculture Alliance formed to guide industry toward environmental sustainability. World Aquaculture, September 1997, p. 48.

4 D.J. Donovan. 1997. Environmental Code of Practice for Australian Prawn Farmers. July 1997. 32 pp.

5 O. Pawaputanon. 1997. Manual for harmoni-zation of good shrimp farm practice. ASEAN Fisheries Network Project.

6 Anon. The Holmenkollen Guidelines for Sustainable Aquaculture. In: Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Sustainable Aqualculture, Oslo, 2-5 November 1997. Trondheim, Norway, Norwegian Academy of Technological Sciences. 9 pp.

7 FAO. 1997. Risk management and food safety. Report of a joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation, Rome, 27-31 January 1997. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 65. Rome; and FAO. 1998. Animal feeding and food safety. Report of an FAO Consultation, Rome, 10-14 March 1997.FAO Food and NutritionPaper No. 69. Rome.

8 SEAFDEC/FAO/CIDA. Report and proceeding of SEAFDEC/ FAO/CIDA Expert Meeting on the Use of Chemicals in Aquaculture in Asia, 20-22 May 1996, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre, Iloilo, the Philippines. (in preparation)

9 FAO. 1997. Towards safe and effective use of chemicals in coastal aquaculture. GESAMP Reports and Studies No. 65, Rome. 40 pp.

10 FAO/NACA/WHO. Food safety issues associated with products from aquaculture. Report of a Joint FAO/NACA/ WHO Study Group on Food Safety Issues associated with Products from Aquaculture, Bangkok, Thailand, 22-26 July 1997. WHO Technical Report Series No. 883. Geneva, WHO. (in press)

11 Directive 91/493/EEC as amended by Directive 95/71/EC.

12 Directive 91/67/EEC as amended by Directives 93/54/EC and 95/22/EC.