The global salmon supply is about to get more sustainable

A green loan puts sustainable salmon on the menu

In the past decade, salmon has shifted to the center of the plate as a healthy and desirable animal protein option. Amid growing demand, Chile’s aquaculture frontrunner is taking steps to make the global salmon supply more sustainable.

Demand for salmon has grown faster than any other aquaculture or animal protein. It has outpaced growth in pork, poultry, beef and wild-caught seafood, says a new RaboResearch report.

“Advanced aquaculture production, the fresh seafood value chain, and a dedicated and innovative processing industry have made salmon the ‘affordable luxury’ seafood that is also a mainstream product,” says report author, Seafood Analyst Beyhan de Jong. “Both in the EU and in the US, salmon is currently in the top three of the most-consumed seafood categories and is growing in markets that are saturated with protein.”

More than a luxury protein

Given its popularity, the report suggests shifting salmon away from its ‘luxury’ status and repositioning it as a healthy and sustainable protein. Aquaculture is meeting demand in terms of volume, but price points and convenience are not the only factors for critical consumers. Salmon, which offers a great source of lean protein, has lunged forward for sustainability reasons, such as efficient feed conversion ratios, lower environmental impact, and fewer perceived animal welfare issues.

The time is right to make the global salmon supply even more sustainable. And with access to crucial knowledge, networks and finance, one willing aquaculture superstar in Chile wants to do just that.

Chilean protein giant Agrosuper wants to show the market it’s producing sustainable salmon. The answer? Certification.

The proof is in the certification

Western consumers and supermarkets don’t just demand sustainably grown fish – they require proof. To that end, Rabobank and the World Wildlife Fund have partnered with Chile’s farmed salmon leaders to find a path to the retail shelf for sustainable, certified and traceable fish.

“The way to show the market that you produce sustainable salmon is by obtaining certification,” explains Brenda de Swart, Head Sustainability, RaboFinance Chile. Several certifications – each with their own requirements – exist within the salmon sector. The gold standard for salmon aquaculture is ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certification, and in the biggest markets, like Europe, it’s necessary for reaching supermarket shelves.

“The ASC certification focuses on issues such as the environmental impact of farms, social aspects, and biodiversity. It is renowned for its chain of custody which ensures traceability,” explains RaboResearch Seafood Analyst Gorjan Nikolik. “ASC tracks the product all the way to the retail shop to guarantee the story of each fish on that shelf.”

“Rabobank and WWF have taken steps to the accelerate certification in the Chilean salmon sector and promote ASC certification among our salmon customers in Chile,” adds De Swart.

“ASC certification guarantees the story of each fish on the shelf”

- Gorjan Nikolik, RaboResearch

Scaling up sustainability

To the uninitiated, Chile’s largest salmon producers prioritizing sustainability might appear like the ripples of a big fish in a small pond. In fact, it is a massive undertaking that could reshape the salmon market globally. Following a series of 2018 mergers and acquisitions among Chilean farmed salmon producers, protein giant Agrosuper is now the leading producer in Chile and the second largest salmon producer in the world.

Agrosuper is preparing for ASC certification for all of its newly acquired salmon operations. To date, 31 of their salmon production centers are ASC certified. The company currently holds 7.2 percent of the global salmon market and is aiming for 100 percent ASC certification.

The certification will offer a more transparent view of how a sustainable farm performs throughout the entire chain. Among its assessments, ASC looks at a farm’s potential impact on biodiversity and nearby ecosystems. For example, feed must also be sourced from sustainable fishing practices with no endangered or vulnerable species.

Agrosuper will implement an aquaculture improvement program at its production centers.

A green loan for greener salmon

Over the past six years, Rabobank and WWF have promoted sustainable practices and ASC certification in the Chilean salmon sector. The collaboration has helped set sustainability goals that are objective, measurable and challenging for the entire aquaculture industry.

In the most recent development, Rabobank provided Agrosuper with a Green Loan, with technical support and advice from WWF, to finance part of its recent acquisitions in the Chilean salmon industry. The loan – the first of its kind in Chile – is a seven-year agreement with several green conditions such as a commitment to reduce antibiotic use in salmon farming, increase the number of ASC certifications and implement an aquaculture improvement program for production centers.

“This agreement is a declaration between Rabobank and Agrosuper to work together prioritizing sustainability in the agri-food industry,” says Luis Felipe Fuenzalida, Agrosuper’s Director of Admin and Financing.

“This agreement is a declaration to prioritize sustainability”

- Luis Felipe Fuenzalida, Agrosuper

Environmental and social criteria

As a leading conservation organization, WWF prioritized the incorporation of environmental and social criteria in the financial sector’s risk assessment for salmon farming. WWF Chile also promotes best practices related to issues like antibiotic use and relationships with neighboring communities.

“The results obtained in this work are encouraging, and we can already see concrete signals,” says Ricardo Bosshard, Director of WWF Chile. “For example, the criteria established by RaboFinance in its loan to Agrosuper includes some of WWF’s social policy guidelines, as well as indicators we have developed for the fulfilment of ASC certification requirements, and information about how we monitor the effects of this certification.”

An enduring commitment

Remaining profitable and having sustainable production methods are the only way for farmed salmon to continue to meet global demand and reach the supermarket shelf.

“Agrosuper is committed to the future sustainability of our aquaculture business. What we have achieved and what we are working on is important to us, but also improves the quality and reputation for Chile's farmed salmon and the global seafood market,” affirms Rafael Prieto, Head of Corporate Sustainability and Affairs at Agrosuper.

“By including environmental and social conditions in the loan structure we are supporting the client in the journey to produce in a more sustainable way,” says De Swart. “Agrosuper’s commitment contributes to Rabobank’s objective to support the sustainable production of food for 9 billion people by the year 2050.”