An Aquaculture Improvement Project (AIP) is an alliance of producers, processors, suppliers, and buyers working together to address sustainability issues in a fish- (or shrimp-) farming zone. The zone may be a common water input/discharge source (canal, river, aquifer, or reservoir); a government-designated administrative division such as a development plan area or “park”; and/or a geographic feature such as an island, valley, or coastal area.

AIPs are designed to bring all stakeholders together to recognize their responsibilities and take actions to improve the environmental and social quality of the production zone. Key actions include understanding and implementing carrying capacity models, agreeing on specific control measures to deal with disease outbreaks, and developing market incentives for improvements.

SFP’s role is to engage, inform, educate, and empower the supply chain to work together to solve collective regional farming environmental issues that not only impact local lives and livelihoods but also may have negative impacts on continuity of supply, as well as perceived quality concerns in the marketplace. An AIP is not a certification or an eco-label.

The primary aim of an AIP is to reduce the cumulative and combined impacts of aquaculture practices that can arise from poor water usage practices, over-density of farms, incorrect (inappropriate) zoning/siting, inefficient feed management, and insufficient coordination of disease treatment. AIPs can also serve as forums in which farmers – both large- and small-scale – share lessons learned regarding better practices and can work together to press for improvements in other sectors that impact their operations, such as nonpoint source pollution from upstream agriculture or industry.

A four-model approach

Right now, the industry is using four distinct models to improve aquaculture practices. Each model can be used individually, but they may also build off of one another to ultimately lead to a full zonal aquaculture improvement project (AIP).

Model 1: Group certification to BAP/GGAP/ASC
Example: National Fish & Seafood efforts

National Fish has launched four small farm group pilots for the purpose of bringing small shareholder shrimp farmers up to the internationally recognized aquaculture standard under the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification program. For now, the focus is on bringing the farms in line with BAP certification and not on the broader (zonal) impacts. The group certification model does, however, include the need for an internal control system between the farms, so the model drives the need for some initial cooperation between the farms.

Model 2: Core farm to create zone pilot
Example: Beaver Street Fisheries efforts

Beaver Street has identified a group of farms around its core supplying farm (which is already certified, but its neighbors are not) to work with on data sharing between farms on disease issues and water quality. It does not include all of the farms in the region, but it is a good place to start a dialogue and will hopefully lead to a producer association more formally coordinating issues such as stocking and fallowing in order to further minimize disease risk.

Model 3: Full zone to BAP certification
Pilots will include an area of tilapia farmers in Hainan, shrimp farmers in the Gulf of Fonseca, and salmon farmers in Atlantic Canada

This approach will have a minimum requirement that the majority of farms in an identified watershed participate in coordinated stocking, fallowing, disease treatment, and information sharing to ensure disease mitigation. This is an industry-driven approach – it does not formally involve regulators – toward “area management” and is initially focused on disease management. Later evolutions of the standard will cover water quality and eventually feed, labor, and other issues for standardization across industries.

Model 4: Full AIP (industry association/province level)
Example: Hainan Tilapia AIP

This type of improvement project needs the buy-in and participation of an industry association to develop and implement good practices by which all participants agree to abide, including those that would minimize disease risk and environmental impact. The association will need to get the attention of government and research institutions to work with it. The overall goal is to bring good practices into effective industry planning and wider evidence-based policy around responsible feed ingredient sourcing, disease management, and environmental quality