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Assessment Criteria

Sweetlips

How the criteria were developed

In 2013 AMCS undertook an international review of seafood guide assessment methodologies and criteria, including those from the UK, America, Canada and New Zealand. This review process was used to inform, review and update the methodology AMCS uses to assess the sustainability of Australian and imported farmed and wild caught seafood.

The outcome of the review process was an updated set of standardised criteria for wild-caught and farmed seafood.

The assessment process

Assessments have been conducted on the major species of seafood caught and farmed in Australia, as well as the main seafood imported into Australia. The individual fishery or farming method is assessed against the AMCS criteria, which results in an overall ranking of either:

  • Green 'Better Choice'
  • Amber 'Eat Less'
  • Red 'Say No'

For more information on the process, see How the Guide was Developed.

Wild Capture fisheries assessment criteria

Wild capture fisheries are assessed against four overarching criteria that define how much impact a fishery has on the target species and the wider marine environment:

1. Stock status of the target species
2. Bycatch, byproduct and discard concerns
3. Habitat and ecosystem impacts
4. Management and effectiveness of management measures

Within each of these categories, a number of sub-criteria are used to refine the analysis of fishery impacts. A sustainability rating (green, amber or red) is assigned for each of these sub-criteria and the final rank is a result of either the cumulative impacts of the whole fishery in which the species is caught, or is determined due to a specific significant issue.

For example, if fishery reports showed that the population of a threatened or protected species is in further decline as a result of fishing activity, the fishery is ranked as 'Say No'. Similarly, if a species is defined as 'overfished' AMCS recommends that the species is not a sustainable choice.

The following is a breakdown of the AMCS criteria and sub-criteria against which fisheries were assessed:

1. Stock status of target species

a. Stock status
Factors considered are the current status of the stock, based on reported abundance/biomass/size or age structure compared to virgin biomass of fish prior to fishing, and stock levels about Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) or other proxies. Additional considerations include the quality of data; for example, if a stock is reported as healthy based on fishery catch records, whether the records are long-term or short-term is taken into account. In addition, uncertainties in stock information and whether the species is listed as threatened with extinction on IUCN red list or under Australian environmental law (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) as protected or migratory species is also considered.

b. Fishing mortality
This is a consideration of whether the level of fishing is appropriate to the stock status and biology of the target stock – if a targeted species is fast-growing and there is good information on the stock status, fishing levels may be set higher than for slower growing species, or those with minimal information on stock status.

c. Species biology
Where there are gaps in information on stock status, the biology of the species is considered, in particular, its vulnerability and resilience to fishing. The assessment criteria used the vulnerability and resilience scores recorded on FishBase, (an international database compiled by scientists), as well as other parameters to decide upon the vulnerability and resilience to fishing pressure, e.g. age at maturity, maximum age, fecundity, intrinsic rate of increase, natural population fluctuations and the species' geographical range.

2. Bycatch, byproduct and discard concerns

a. Interactions with Threatened, Endangered or Protected (TEP) species
This assesses the level of fishery impact on species listed as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, under Australian environmental law (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) as a protected or migratory species under legislation specific to the State or Territory that manages a fishery, or under international agreements or conventions, such as the Convention on Migratory Species or CITES.

b. Byproduct and discard management
This considers the amount of byproduct taken and the quantity of fish and other marine animals discarded by the fishery, whether these levels are changing over time, whether management measures exist to manage and reduce byproduct and discards, whether these measures are appropriate, and whether the levels of take of byproduct or amount of fish discarded are likely to be having a negative impact on the stock or species.

c. Bycatch, byproduct and discarding reporting
This criterion considers whether levels of independent observer coverage are adequate and credible, and whether there is confidence in fisheries logbooks.

3. Habitat and ecosystem impacts

a. Physical impacts
Different methods of fishing impact marine habitat to different degrees ranging from low impact methods, such as inshore haul netting or hand collecting, to higher impact methods, such as dredging and trawling. This criteria assesses the level of physical disturbance that the method of fishing under consideration is likely to cause.

b. Spatial/temporal scale of impacts
This measure is assessed if the physical impact of fishing activity is considered significant, for example, in trawl fisheries that contact the seafloor, and considers whether the level of impact is acceptable. The sensitivity of the area impacted, the level of detailed knowledge of impacted habitat and the geographical and temporal scale of impacts are accounted for.

c. Biological impacts
This criterion measures the indirect effects of fishing on ecologically related species and considers impacts of fishing activity on biodiversity. The position of the target species in the food chain, and its scale of importance, for example, as an apex predator, is also accounted for. This criterion enables ecosystem level analysis of the impacts of fishing.

4. Management and effectiveness of management measures

a. Comprehensive compliance monitoring and reporting
This criterion assesses the legal framework in place for management of the fishery, judges its effectiveness and assesses levels of fisheries compliance with management measures.

b. Scientific uncertainty and how this is accounted for in management
This criterion accounts for the level of certainty over stock status and how this is incorporated into management controls, how uncertainty in biological parameters, for example, age at maturity, maximum age, is accounted for and whether there is investment in sourcing better information on which to base management controls.

c. Management approach to bycatch, byproduct and discards
This criterion assesses whether there is good reporting of information related to bycatch (particularly TEP species), byproduct and discarding and what management actions are in place to address any issues identified.

d. Management approach to habitat and ecosystem impacts
This enables an assessment of whether management plans are in place to address fishery impacts on habitats and the environment, and assesses the effectiveness of management plans in place.

Aquaculture assessment criteria

Farmed seafood is assessed against four overarching criteria that define how much of an impact the method of farming has on the marine environment:

1. Use of marine resources
2. Risk to wildlife and wild fisheries
3. Impacts on the natural environment
4. Management and effectiveness of management measures

Within each of these categories, a number of sub-criteria are used to provide a more refined analysis of farming impacts. A sustainability rating (green, amber or red) is assigned for each of these sub-criteria and the final rank is produced as a result of either the cumulative impacts of the whole farming process, or is determined due to a specific significant issue. For example juvenile southern bluefin tuna are caught in the wild and then grown to market size in ranching operations; as the source of the farming process is from an overfished wild population, farmed southern bluefin tuna are ranked 'Say No'.

The following is a breakdown of the AMCS criteria and sub-criteria against which farmed seafood was assessed.

1. Use of marine resources

a. Fish in to fish out ratio
This is a measure of the net protein gain or loss from farming activities, specifically whether the amount of wild fish used in farmed fish feed exceeds the amount of farmed fish produced, and by what amount. This measure applies to omnivorous and carnivorous fish, but not to animals that do not require feed inputs, such as oysters and mussels, which receive an automatic green ranking in this category.

b. Sustainability of feed source
This criteria investigates the stock status of the fishery from which fish feed is sourced, as well as any other sustainability issues (such as bycatch of threatened species) associated with the wild capture fishery of the source of fish used to make feed.

c. Source of broodstock
In some farming production, such as Atlantic salmon and yellowtail kingfish, broodstock, or eggs and juvenile fish, are bred within the farming set-up; others are taken from the wild and then grown to marketable size by fish farmers, for example, southern bluefin tuna and eels. The stock status of the wild capture fishery from which the juveniles are harvested is considered in this criterion.

2. Risk to wildlife and wild fisheries

a. Threatened Endangered and Protected (TEP) species interactions and mitigation measures
This is an assessment of whether the method of farming impacts threatened or protected species, either through entanglement in farm structures, such as sea cages, or directly killing wildlife if farm managers consider them a 'problem'.

b. Effects of escapees
This criteria assesses the impact of escaped native and non-native farmed seafood on native surrounding marine wildlife, for example competition with native species for feed, predation on native species or the establishment of feral populations. Where impacts are historical in nature and now well managed, farming operations are ranked to reflect current management, for example, farming of non-native Pacific oysters.

c. Disease transfer potential
This is a consideration of the risk that aquaculture operations pose to wild populations of marine wildlife through disease transmission (from within the farm to the external environment).

3. Impacts on the natural environment

a. Siting considerations
This criterion assesses whether the scale of the aquaculture operation is appropriate to the surrounding area, whether the relevant environmental checks have been undertaken to minimise impacts and whether natural ecosystem functioning is maintained in the presence of the aquaculture operations.

b. Effluent effects
This criterion assesses the scale of use and impact of both chemicals (including, but not limited to copper anti-foulants and antibiotics) and nutrients (fish waste products, including excess feed) on the surrounding environment. AMCS does not assess the human health aspects of the use of chemicals in farming operations.

c. Local and regional habitat impacts
This criterion assesses the effects of aquaculture operations on surrounding marine habitats, accounting for the spatial and temporal scale of the impacts.

d. Cumulative impacts
An assessment of whether the density and scale of the operation is appropriate to the surrounding area and whether the total effect of farming production is likely to have significant impacts over and above the scale of a single farming/business operation.

4. Management and effectiveness of management measures

a. Compliance monitoring and reporting
This criterion looks at the existence and application of existing national, federal, state and local laws - whether appropriate legislation is in place and whether its use is effective in preventing damage to the surrounding marine environment.

b. Management approach to environmental impacts
This criterion assesses the effectiveness of management measures in place in relation to the operation's effect on its surrounding environment.

c. Management approach to effluent
This criterion analyses the effectiveness of management measures in place in relation to effluent (chemicals and nutrients).

d. Management of wildlife interactions
This criterion examines the effectiveness of management measures in place in relation to TEP and wildlife interactions.

e. Management of escapees
In some instances, fish may escape from farming operations into the wild. This criterion is an assessment of the effectiveness of management measures in place in relation to escapees – how management aims to prevent escapes and whether these measures are appropriate.

 Image credit: Troy Mayne