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International standards and intergovernmental agreements of relevance to aquaculture certification


In response to increasing concerns regarding the sustainability of the fisheries sector, FAO developed the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF). This non-mandatory document "establishes principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of all fisheries". The CCRF was unanimously adopted by an FAO conference in 1995 and provides a framework for national and international efforts towards the sustainability of the sector. The CCRF relates to several aspects of sustainable fisheries and includes one article (Article 9) on Aquaculture Development. Over the years the CCRF has been voluntarily adopted by several countries and it has, in some cases (such as Thailand) inspired the development of national certification programmes for aquaculture commodities.17


The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of food safety standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations developed under the guidance of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an intergovernmental body created in 1963 by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect consumers' health, ensure fair-trade practices in the food trade and promote coordination of all food standards' work undertaken by IGOs and NGOs.

The development of Codex Alimentarius standards begins with the submission of a proposal for a standard to be developed by a national government or a committee within the commission. The commission or the executive committee decides whether such a standard should be developed as proposed. Upon a favourable decision, a subsidiary body to be responsible for coordinating the standard development process is identified. If necessary, a new subsidiary body (for example a specialized task force) may also be created. Draft standards are circulated to all member governments for comment, which are then considered by the body coordinating the development of the proposed standard. Standards are added to the Codex Alimentarius only when adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The standard development process generally takes a number of years. Standards are also reviewed regularly following the same procedure used for standard development.

At present there are about 200 Codex Standards, of which several are applicable to fisheries commodities, and over 100 other documents including Codes of Practice and guidelines. A search of the Codex database reveals that there are 21 documents in the "Fish and Fisheries Products" category. Inter alia there are 18 standards, two guidelines and the Code of Practice for Fish and Fisheries Products, which also covers the aquaculture sector.


Office International des Épizooties (OIE) or the World Organization of Animal Health is an inter-governmental organization created in 1924 to address animal health globally through the collection, analysis and dissemination of animal health information, by providing and encouraging international solidarity and by supporting the improvement of legal frameworks for the control of animal diseases. Under the WTO Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) agreement the OIE also safeguards global trade by developing and publishing health standards applicable to animals and animal products. The OIE has 167 member countries and operates through a process of frequent consultations with its member country representatives.

The OIE's activities on aquatic animal health are largely coordinated by the Aquatic Animal Health Standards Commission which, in addition to promoting aquatic animal health globally, is also in charge of developing generic and specific disease chapters for the Aquatic Animal Health Code and the Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals. The OIE is also involved in the development of documents on animal welfare.


In continuation of its efforts towards the development of principles for responsible fisheries, in 1999 FAO, in partnership with NACA, the World Bank and WWF, formed a Consortium on Shrimp Farming and the Environment to identify issues around shrimp farming and advise on better management of the sector. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined the consortium in 2003 and this resulted in the development of the International Principles for Responsible Shrimp Farming, which address technical, environmental and socio-economic sustainability issues of the shrimp farming sector.

In 2006 the International Principles were endorsed by the 17 governments of the NACA Governing Council and were welcomed by FAO's member governments at the FAO Sub-Committee on Aquaculture in 2006 and at the FAO Committee on Fisheries meeting in 2007.

Over time, members of the consortium have also coordinated several activities towards the conversion of these principles into practice. Inter alia, NACA efforts towards the development and implementation of Better Management Practices (BMP) in several countries in the Asia-Pacific region (e.g. India, Viet Nam, Indonesia) generated particularly successful experiences which led the NACA Governing Council to request the development of BMP and standards for the production of aquaculture commodities relevant to the Asia–Pacific region.


In June 2006, representatives of government institutions in charge of fisheries management from seven of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries (i.e. Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam and Cambodia) met to discuss the establishment of an ASEAN Shrimp Alliance with, inter alia, the objective of establishing shrimp production standards for ASEAN countries. An agreement was reached to undertake efforts at both government and private sector levels. A detailed proposal including the role of the ASEAN Shrimp Alliance is currently being developed by SEAFDEC and the Thai Department of Fisheries.18


The Convention on the Law of the Sea is an intergovernmental document through which the international community agrees on procedures to regulate all aspects of marine resources and ocean use. The convention, adopted in 1982, was signed by over 160 countries. Although a major focus of the convention is on marine resource exploitation, this document is also relevant to the aquaculture sector, especially when dealing with the interactions between culture and capture fisheries.


The Convention on Biological Diversity is an agreement which was signed in 1992 by 150 governments. The convention is dedicated to promoting sustainable development recognizing that biological diversity is important not only for plants, animals, micro-organisms and their ecosystems, but also for people globally as it contributes to food security and provides medicines and a healthy environment in which to live. The convention contains several provisions specific to aquaculture/mariculture, particularly concerning the transboundary movement of aquatic organisms and the control of invasive alien species.


The UN Global Compact is a set of principles that the UN requests companies to voluntarily follow and promote to address the following issues: human rights, labour standards, the environment and combating corruption. It comprises ten principles:

Human Rights

Labour Standards




Currently there are many schemes aimed at improving the sustainability of the aquaculture sector or that are potentially relevant to the aquaculture sector. These schemes either do not have a true certification process or, if they do, the certification process has yet to be applied to aquaculture commodities.

17 Rohana Subasinghe, FAO, personal communication.

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