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Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard


With the release of the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard, Canadian consumers will now have the opportunity to choose certified organic farmed seafood including finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants.


News Release - May 10, 2012

New Organic Standards Released for Canadian Farmed Seafood


Frequently Asked Questions about the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard

1. What does “organic” mean with respect to aquaculture?

Organic aquaculture is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of the aquatic ecosystem, including benthic organisms, seaweeds, aquatic plants, aquaculture animals and people.

Specifically, the organic aquaculture standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, herbicides and genetically modified organisms, and severely restrict the use parasiticides, allowed only under veterinary supervision as a last course of treatment. The standards set measurable requirements for practices that minimize the impact of waste. These include defining stocking rates, cleaning procedures and the cleaning and feed materials that must be used.


2. What will the Canadian organic aquaculture standard mean for consumers?

The word "organic" on aquaculture products will mean an accredited certifying body has verified that the production methods meet or exceed the Canadian standard for organic aquaculture production.


3. How has the standard changed since the first draft?

There have been many changes, notably: antibiotic use is prohibited, parasiticide use is tightly restricted, feed source requirements are prioritized, organic transition periods are longer, stocking density rates are now set for the various species raised, and sediment build-up underneath the unit may not exceed the local environment’s assimilation capacity. For more details, see below.


4. What are the major differences between organic and conventionally raised seafood?

  • Antibiotics are prohibited. Treated animals may not be sold as organic.
  • Stocking density of animals is limited according to the species under production. In the case of salmon, the organic stocking rate permitted is about half the density usually used in conventional aquaculture.
  • GMO aquatic animals and plants are prohibited.
  • Pesticide treatments are carefully restricted. They may not be the first course of action, and may only be used under veterinary supervision, followed by twice the legal withdrawal period. Use is limited to one application for animals under one year of age, and a maximum of two applications for older animals. Operators who use a pesticide must provide the certifier with an amended parasite control plan to avoid similar emergencies.
  • Feed is controlled:
    • No growth-promoting hormones
    • No GMO feed ingredients
    • No artificial colouring (must be from organic or natural sources)
    • No synthetic appetite or flavour enhancers
    • Fish meal and fish oil must be organic, when commercially available. 
    • When organic fish meal or fish oil is not commercially available, it will be preferentially sourced from trimming of fish already caught for human consumption in sustainable fisheries.  (FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries).
  • Chemical antifoulants, such as those used for net treatment, are not allowed.


5. How does the standard address animal welfare?


Organic aquaculture facilities must be managed to maximize welfare and minimize stress:


  • Animals shall have sufficient space that meets stocking requirements
  • Cultivation within a secure system designed to avoid containment breaches and escapes
  • Use of lights is limited, construction materials may not contain leachable toxic chemical agents


  • Feed shall be compatible with natural environment diets and meet the species’ specific nutritional needs.

Water Quality

  • Operations must be situated where water is not subject to contamination and meets the species’ needs.


  • Slaughtering must minimize pre-slaughter and slaughter stress. Suffocation is not permitted. Techniques shall render the aquaculture animals immediately unconscious and insensible to pain.


 6. How is waste addressed?

The standard sets measurable requirements to minimize the impact of waste. These include defining stocking density rates, cleaning procedures and the cleaning and feed materials that must be used.


7. Can open net finfish farms apply for organic certification?

Yes. The organic standards set down the methods of production that must be followed in open systems. Both the EU organic aquaculture standard and the US draft standard allow open net pens.


8. How will the standard address interactions between wild and farmed fish?

The organic aquaculture standard requires the operator to monitor and detail the operation’s environmental impact to minimize negative effects on the migratory and reproductive patterns of local wild fish populations, other predators, birds and any other fauna and flora. The operator must list the measures used to minimize negative impacts. Siting requirements are addressed as part of existing federal and provincial regulations. Fish farm locations are selected for their low environmental impact.


9. Can land based farms using recirculating aquaculture systems apply for organic certification?”

Yes. The organic standards set down the methods of production that must be followed in recirculating aquaculture systems. The draft US standard also allows for land based recirculating aquaculture systems; however, the EU standard does not at this time.


10. What is the goal of the organic aquaculture standard – why was it established?

The goal of the organic aquaculture standard is to encourage sustainable and environmentally sound seafood production. About half of the fish eaten today are farmed, and this standard was developed to provide an excellent production tool to aquaculturists, and recognize those who choose to produce their fish and shellfish according to more rigorous requirements. The standard sets uniform rules for organic aquaculture production.


11. How was the National Standard for Organic Aquaculture created?

The standard was developed by a committee established by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), including representatives from industry, regulatory bodies, consumer advocacy groups, First Nations, and environmental groups. The CGSB employs a transparent process, publishing draft standards for public review to ensure input from all interested parties. The CGSB committee has made provisions for a review of the standard within five years. The standard will evolve with the industry’s capacity to meet more robust requirements, such as requiring all feed ingredients to be organic, as more becomes available as the industry grows.


12. What was the process and results of the final vote by the CGSB committee?

75% of eligible voting members on the committee voted and 81.48% of those votes were in favour.

The committee was balanced (producers, users, general, regulators) according to CGSB requirements so that no one group could outvote all the others.


13. Is the standard regulated?

No. Accredited certifying bodies will certify to this standard, but it is not referenced in government regulation at this time. Organic aquaculture products may not carry the Canada Organic logo at this time. However, regulation and enforcement provisions will be sought to strengthen the application of the standard.


For further information:

Stephanie Wells
Senior Regulatory Affairs Advisor
Canada Organic Trade Association

Ruth Salmon
Executive Director
Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance





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