Back in 2011 the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association (AAA) received positive feedback on the west coast where so many communities are dependent on a marine economy that has disappeared for several years. The Aboriginal Principles for Sustainable Aquaculture (APSA) standard of certification has been applied to Cermaq Canada, and, according to proponents of the standard, “other fish aquaculture companies are now inquiring about certification."
What are the criteria? The AAA had been working with Ahousaht First Nation to bring about APSA certification of Cermaq Canada operation, and APSA grew out of a strenuous academic exercise that began a decade ago with the goal of making the flourishing fish farm industry compliant with Indigenous people's inherent interests and values.
APSA certification shows the world that, “a company produced in a way that meets the needs of First Nations with a program approved by First Nations.”
Richard Harry is the president of the AAA, “We need to make the world understand and appreciate First Nations communities operating in aquaculture. It is the biggest employer in our communities. There are jobs for people which sustains communities, and we are partners in these endeavors.”
A close observer of the industry over the years, Harry notes, “Fish farming is probably the most over-regulated industry in the country. To us, it is operation standards that matter. And where the industry goes we need to be part of it. First Nations and the companies involved will lead the APSA program. But the market place itself is probably the most important place.”
Harry says, “Since we lack resources to promote the certification, it will be the people who accept this form of certification that will do the promotion. I don't know if it has ever happened that a First Nation certification of an industry has occurred.”
The AAA mission statement is to promote First Nation sustainable aquaculture in ways that support and respect First Nation community culture and values. It means First Nation-approved aquaculture products coming onto the market. During the years of development, “We looked at environmental issues first, then began looking deeper at the regulatory and government programs, both mandatory and voluntary, including issues like compliance to ISO 14000, environmental permitting and assessments, government and community protocols.”
The AAA designed the criteria beginning with environmental performance of these companies and industries, "a performance that has to be better understood by the general public. But we also realized the need for monitoring social aspects of aquaculture, that we should focus on the economic impact in communities, and cultural aspects, asking if aquaculture operators are meeting needs in local communities."
Ahousaht is deeply engaged in the aquaculture and fish farm industry so it makes a good starting point for a certification program, and, Harry adds, "(Cermaq) had been working with Ahousaht for long time to develop the relationship, in fact, signing a protocol agreement last year. They had a natural foundation for certification." Thus fish farming received the first certification of aquaculture under APSA, but, "The whole idea is to go across all sorts of aquaculture.
"But this is a good first example of implementation. AAA has a goal to have APSA applied to any form of aquaculture, operator, and First Nation across the country."
APSA audits the economic, social, water and land use, personnel use, and applies to aquaculture on the ocean, or land, including hatcheries. "It is like any other certification program that has a set of criteria and those criteria were developed in cooperation with AAA and First Nations. You are talking about a set of criteria established by the AAA and First Nation communities done by a third party does audit process."
The AAA has held workshops to inform First Nations about APSA.