Facilitating Global Industry Standards for Aquaculture

CBI facilitates the multi-stakeholder “Aquaculture Dialogues” – convened by WWF – to help set global, environmental, and social standards for responsible production of farmed salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and other species.

Background and Challenges

About half of the seafood eaten in the world today is grown in a net, a man-made pond, or a tank. Aquaculture is now the fastest growing food production system in the world. Farming fish provides many benefits, including providing food insecure communities with an essential protein source. At the same time, industry practices can have profound negative impacts on communities and the environment, such as increased conflicts over land and water use, disruption of local ecosystems, and the overfishing of wild fish to feed farmed fish.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) asked CBI to help design and facilitate a robust stakeholder engagement and negotiation process – based on a consensus-building approach – in order to create voluntary standards that could transform industry practices. Farmers who uphold the standards are certified by WWF as sustainable producers. WWF works with many of the largest seafood buyers around the world, encouraging them to buy only from certified producers.

The WWF Aquaculture Dialogues stand out amid a crowded field of certification schemes because of their focus on measurable environmental and social standards created through multi-stakeholder negotiation. However, finalizing the standards was an inherently complicated process, given the geographic scope, technical focus, and ambitious goals of the Dialogues.

The CBI Approach

CBI helps the Aquaculture Dialogues address the challenges of creating voluntary standards by: focusing on strengthening stakeholder ownership, applying a mutual gains negotiation framework, undertaking joint fact finding, reaching out early and often to affected parties, and clearly documenting the process.


Shared ownership of the process by which standards are developed is critical to motivating stakeholders in what can be a long and challenging endeavor. Initially, WWF both managed and facilitated the process. WWF also acted as a stakeholder with a specific conservation agenda. When CBI was brought in, we assumed the role of an impartial facilitator, ensuring that the process met the needs of all participants, and thus allowing WWF to concentrate on coordination and promotion of its own conservation goals. CBI also helped create space for greater ownership among stakeholders by proactively responding to needs and concerns regarding the process.

Standard setting in this context requires a well-designed, interest-based negotiation framework to manage difficult decisions by key stakeholders who often have very strong values and rigid scientific views. CBI used our Mutual Gains Approach to guide the Dialogues, allowing participants to generate creative solutions that met stakeholders' goals and interests. We facilitated discussion within a carefully structured process so participants can explore one another's interests, generate and weigh options, make decisions, and effectively anticipate implementation challenges.

A common mistake in a science-based endeavor such as the Dialogues is to outsource tough, value-laden policy decisions to technical working groups or scientists. To allow for more comprehensive and effective decision-making, CBI employed an alternative strategy called Joint Fact Finding (JFF). Using JFF, CBI helped stakeholders jointly identify which technical questions need answers, which appropriate and credible experts to ask, and what methods to use that will be viewed as legitimate by all stakeholders. Once these process issues have been clarified, stakeholders can both guide scientific research, and later decide how best to integrate its results into their decision-making. For instance, in the Salmon and Shrimp Dialogues, CBI assisted the Steering Committees through the JFF process by grounding social and environmental issues in jointly supported research sponsored by stakeholders. This helped to narrow the range of standard-setting negotiations that took place about key environmental and social impacts.

Globally, thousands of people from diverse geographies have participated in the Aquaculture Dialogues. The high level of engagement reflects an intensive outreach effort on the part of WWF, supported by CBI. A successful Dialogues process depends on the participation of stakeholders who can help create a more informed standard and champion the process, as well as those who have significant concerns. Outreach has ranged from an active web and media presence, to meetings with small-scale, rural farmers throughout the world. Seafood buyers — including supermarket chains and food service distributors — also play a critical role in determining consumer choices. Several major buyers, such as Sysco and Whole Foods, have been engaged in the Dialogues process.

The Dialogue's large scope and technical complexity necessitate that CBI maintains clear process documentation to keep all parties updated. CBI also helps WWF make the process accessible to newcomers, and upholds the Dialogues' commitment to transparency under ISEAL guidelines. All meeting outcomes are captured in clear summaries without attribution. Documents are available online and in multiple languages. During public comment periods, all feedback is published on the Dialogues website, along with responses to the feedback and how feedback was used to revise the draft standards.  

Project Update

As of March 2012, CBI has worked successfully with multi-stakeholder Global Steering Committees to complete facilitated agreements on draft standards for six species – pangasius, mollusks, shrimp tilapia, salmon and freshwater trout.