The Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI)

In an effort to develop an objective analysis of the aquaculture industry, The Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI) was developed by Dr. John Volpe of the University of Victoria, British Columbia and a team of collaborators with aquaculture expertise. The index provides a score of environmental performance of marine finfish production.

CAAR applauds the development of the index; assessing the environmental impact of aquaculture is critical in pushing the industry towards sustainability. At this point GAPI has only looked at marine fin-fish grown in net pens, which includes such species as cod, tuna and salmon. These fish are widely known as species to avoid, “red-listed” on rating systems such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the US and SeaChoice in Canada.

The GAPI score for salmon farming reveals a troubling trend – even after decades of industry development the overall impact of salmon aquaculture on the environment is significant. At the farm level, net pen salmon aquaculture manages to score as the “best” of the worst reflecting farm level efficiencies that lower the costs of production for industry. The cumulative impact score, which measures the impact on the environment by the industry as a whole, shows the net pen salmon industry to be a poor performer. The low cumulative score demonstrates that the salmon aquaculture industry is failing to meet the public interest by undermining the health of marine ecosystems. Despite marginal improvements at the farm level, at scale net pen salmon aquaculture is still inherently unsustainable.

Government and industry claims that Canada’s salmon aquaculture industry follows the best management practices are also disproved. Canada’s farm level performance score is lower than the UK and Norway. The cumulative impact ranking when compared to other major farmed salmon producing regions such as Chile and Norway may be a result of having fewer farms. Government supported plans for industry expansion would increase the cumulative environmental impact in Canada. When compared to the impact of Norway or Chile’s extensive farming operations, overall impacts in Canada may appear less severe even though the dense, concentrated net pen activity in the Broughton Archipelago or the Bay of Fundy, for example, leads to severe localized environmental impacts.

The GAPI project and similar initiatives to assess aquaculture sustainability depend on information from monitoring and research to evaluate environmental impacts. The more government and third party monitoring and reporting that takes place the better public reporting of industry performance can be. Industry transparency is an ongoing problem for conservationists working to understand the full picture of environmental impacts associated with aquaculture operations. We hope that both industry and government management agencies consider the impacts measured by GAPI and make the information needed more available and transparent.

Establishing objective metrics to measure aquaculture impacts is valuable in helping retailers and all stakeholders assess the credibility of certifications and sustainability claims. The GAPI rankings for salmon aquaculture need to be understood in the context of the overall lack of truly sustainable practices in the marine net pen aquaculture industry and the inability of decades of industry development to achieve a performance level that prevents major cumulative impacts when an industry scales up.