The zonal approach views the management needs for sustainable aquaculture differently from many current approaches that give a core focus to the role of individual farms. The zonal approach recognizes that farms are interconnected with each other – that one good farm can still suffer from the impact of poorly run farms around it. In any one zone (or area), the total amount of production needs to be regulated so that the cumulative impact of wastes is minimized and the risk of disease transfer from one farm to the next is controlled. Individual farms still have a duty to operate according to best practice, but there is a need for broader regulatory, industry, and scientific oversight to ensure aquaculture develops in a sustainable way. The more farms that use best practice, the greater the total amount of production that could be sustainably produced from one zone. 

Aquaculture relies on good quality water for effective seafood production, but in some areas where too many pond farms have developed independently situations can develop where the inlet of one farm is right next to the outlet of another. If too many cages are in any one area of the sea, or a lake, there can be similar problems with too many nutrients going in to the environment. The lack of zonal planning for aquaculture development often occurs because many smaller operations fall below the level where environmental impact assessments are required. The result is that many small farms end up producing more than one big farm and the mixed management increases the risk of a problem, like disease or harmful algal blooms. 

When a disease occurs, a farmer’s first reaction is to treat the symptom rather than the cause, often leading to greater use of drugs than is necessary. While inspections are in place to ensure this does not affect human health, SFP believes it would be better to treat the original symptom with good planning and coordination between the industry and regulators, with producers and processors taking responsibility for understanding their impact on the environment and taking actions to ensure this is minimized. We work with the industry, regulators, and scientists through zonal Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs)National Aquaculture Policy Platforms (NAPPs), and Supplier Roundtables (SRs) to ensure this happens. 

Small-scale producers are typically the most hard hit when any industry has a problem. If regulators and industry associations manage aquaculture development effectively, then small-scale producers should be able to operate with confidence that their investments will not be lost so readily. In aquaculture zones all producers should have a say in local management. 

We understand that it will be many years before the majority of the world’s aquaculture production is certified and that current certification does not generally reward collaboration with other farmers to overcome zonal impact issues. We continue to work with the major certification bodies to understand how zonal-level improvements could be recognized and rewarded within the certification process. Presently, the Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices program is developing a zonal management standard.