In aquaculture, achieving and maintaining third-party certifications is an important part of showing leadership in sustainable and responsible salmon farming.
In British Columbia, the two main certification bodies for sustainable salmon farming are the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), and while Grieg has achieved its BAP certification at all its sites, it was in the middle of obtaining its first ASC Multi-site certification when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
But a global pandemic isn’t stopping Kristin Storry, Certifications Manager at Grieg Seafood BC. Her goal of having Grieg’s farms 100 percent ASC certified by 2021 is still on track – although there have been a few changes in the process.
Of course, the audit process looks quite a bit different now than it did when Grieg’s first four farms were granted ASC certification this year, but as Storry explains, it’s just a detour in Grieg’s journey to full certification.
We “sat down” with her digitally to talk about how she and her certification team have adapted to the current crisis, and how the certification goals for Grieg are going:
- How is Grieg’s goal to have all farms 100% ASC certified going so far?
Kristin Storry: It’s definitely going ahead on schedule. So far, Grieg has obtained four individual ASC certifications in Nootka Sound, with one other in the area expected to have the certificate issued by the end of May.
Multi-site ASC certification audits have been completed, and we’re expecting certification this June on the Sunshine Coast, as well as in August at one of our sites off east Vancouver Island called Barnes Bay. The remainder of Grieg’s farms are on track for certification by May 2021. For our Sunshine Coast farms, there is a 65-business day lag to meet ASC public consultation requirements between the audit and the issuance of the multi-site certificate. The audits also can’t occur until the site is at 75% peak biomass, so we will be well into harvesting before the certificate is issued. For Barnes Bay, the peak biomass and benthic sampling will not occur until late August. Afterwards it will be added to the multi-site certificate.
Going forward, all sites will ideally be added to the multi-site certificate, including the sites that currently hold individual certificates. Grieg BC has a very strong internal management system that supports a multi-site certification. The benefits of a multi-site certificate are reduced cost and reduced audit fatigue for the site staff.
- How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the “normal” ASC audit process?
KS: Well, we made the difficult decision to continue on with our audits as planned, however we made adjustments to ensure the health of our office and farm staff. We held the office portion in a hotel, staying isolated from the public, and travelled by float plane to the sites instead of by ferry and vehicles to reduce exposure to the public.
We also took precautions while on the site. We maintained distance from each other and employees, used hand sanitizer (multiple, multiple times), as well as gloves. We also engaged with the site staff to make sure we didn’t come into contact with any of them who might have been concerned or have compromised immune systems.
- How are employees on the farms going above and beyond to help with the ASC audits?
KS: The farm staff have been professional in their approach to the auditors and the certification staff as we were both understanding of what to do under COVID-19. They made sure that we had lots of available hand sanitizer and followed their site procedures. Mostly they just ensured that there was open communication and that we respected those that had concerns and adjusted our auditing accordingly.
At some sites, to reduce our exposure to the living quarters, we reviewed the paperwork in the feed shed or workshop and we even got delivered coffee to keep us as separate as possible.
The site staff was also willing to complete employee interviews by video conference, connecting the social auditor in Utah to the sea sites in Okisollo (Barnes) and Sechelt Inlet.
Communication is key to keeping everyone safe and implementing the proper practices, such as social distancing and self – monitoring. While we are not inspecting farms at this time, we feel confident that staff are looking out for each other and the salmon we grow.
- Why is it important to continue these audits during COVID-19 pandemic?
KS: Our farmers do such an excellent job of growing salmon that’s available fresh on a year-round basis, and the ASC certification is a way that we can communicate this to the public.
During these times, it’s more important than ever to ensure that we deliver a healthy, sustainable source of protein to the market.
- How are you ensuring your personal health and safety during this time?
KS: During and after the site audits were completed, our audit team self-monitored for any symptoms to ensure that we were healthy. The audit continued from my kitchen table virtually as we worked through the paperwork end digitally with the auditors.
As we set a high standard for looking after salmon, we also set a high standard for looking out for each other. This is important during these times. As the impact of COVID-19 changes over time, the certification department will ensure that we follow best practices, so our staff and their families remain healthy and safe.
- What’s next for Grieg’s certification team?
KS: We are focusing on adding the remaining 11 sites into our group BAP certificate and adding Esperanza into our multi-site ASC certificate in November. This will involve onsite visits, but again we will develop a safe and responsible plan with the site staff to ensure that the we can visit the sites, while reducing exposure and respecting staff concerns.
I am focused on keeping my children happy and healthy during this time, while getting work done from my kitchen table.
For more information on Grieg’s certification goals and progress, click here.