oyster-menWhat is the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish?

The Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish Operations addresses the following areas of concern:

  • Safe and fair working conditions,
  • Healthy, humane care for shellstock,
  • Integrated pest and weed management,
  • Soil and water conservation,
  • Fish and wildlife conservation, and,
  • Shared resource management.

The standard applies to all North American production systems that produce shellfish from seed to harvest within a defined area and with clear ownership of the shellfish being cultured. It applies to shellfish farms that produce:

  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Geoducks

The standard does not cover wild harvest.

Producers should review the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish, the Evaluation Tools for Farmed Shellfish, the Policy and Procedures manual, and the FAQs at the bottom of this page before applying for certification.

Download a 2-page overview of the Food Alliance Standard for Farmed Shellfish.

Download the Complete Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish.

What are the Food Alliance Evaluation Tools for Farmed Shellfish?

The Food Alliance Evaluation Tools for Farmed Shellfish Operations describe criteria and indicators used to assess sustainability practices and outcomes. The Evaluation Tools have two purposes:

  • Growers may use the Evaluation Tool as a self-assessment to benchmark current management practices and sustainability performance.
  • Third-party inspectors will use the Evaluation Tool to determine if an operation meets the requirements of the Food Alliance Certification program.

Please note that applicants for Food Alliance certification must meet both the “Whole Shellfish Farm” criteria and the relevant species specific criteria.

Download the:

Whole Shellfish Farm Evaluation Tool
Manila Clam Evaluation Tool
Geoduck Evaluation Tool
Mussel Evaluation Tool
Oyster Evaluation Tool

What is the Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual?

The Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual lays out rules that govern the certification program.

Download the Food Alliance Producer Certification Policy and Procedures Manual.


How do I Apply for Food Alliance Certification for Farmed Shellfish?

Shellfish Producers: Download the Shellfish Certification Program Application.

Shellfish Handlers: Visit the Food Alliance Certified Handlers web page for additional information and application materials for packers, processors, and distributors.

Why Should I Apply for Certification?

Food Alliance certification for farmed shellfish provides a credible and independent third-party audit process to verify implementation of socially and environmentally responsible management practices in shellfish farming operations and handling facilities.

Shellfish growers and handlers with wholesale, restaurant and retail customers interested in sustainability will be well positioned to satisfy market demand for social and environmental responsibility with Food Alliance Certified products.

Endorsements & Testimonials

FishChoice Recognizes Food Alliance Certification!

Fishchoice.com gives seafood buyers free, instant access to the products and information necessary to source socially and environmentally responsible seafood.

FishWise Recognizes Food Alliance Certification!

FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy, recognizes Food Alliance certification for farmed shellfish in the research publication, Without a Trace, a white paper on seafood traceability.

“Shellfish help maintain the health of local estuaries – through filtration, nitrogen removal and habitat diversity – and provide an ongoing incentive for clean water. We applaud Food Alliance for establishing sustainability standards for shellfish aquaculture. The new standards build on the industry’s environmental code of practices and complement the global standards for aquaculture that the World Wildlife Fund has developed. These new sustainability standards will raise the bar for social and environmental performance This is good news for Puget Sound.”

Betsy Peabody, Executive Director
Puget Sound Restoration Fund

“The shellfish industry represents family businesses where current shellfish growers have followed the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Food Alliance Certification captures the essence of this multi-generational industry. The criteria and standards for shellfish certification honors previous generations of growers and sets forward-thinking expectations for future generations.”

Margaret Pilaro Barrette, Executive Director
Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association

“We are so proud, and so lucky to be a part of this amazing community of oyster farmers in this beautiful bay. To protect this incredible resource we all have in Marin County, we must have minimal impact, both on the land and in the water. I think this should be the goal of every single grower and rancher in West Marin. Food Alliance certification helps us tell that story to our customers.”

Terry Sawyer, Co-Founder
Hog Island Oyster Co.

What shellfish producers and handlers are currently certified?

Companies currently certified by Food Alliance include:






Shellfish FAQ

What is the FA Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish Operations?

Why did Food Alliance develop this standard?

How did Food Alliance develop this standard?

What are the environmental impacts of shellfish aquaculture?

How does the farmed shellfish standard address pest management?

How do I know if Food Alliance shellfish certification is right for my operation?

What is the certification process for Food Alliance Certified shellfish operations?

How much does it cost to get Food Alliance Certified?

What does the certification seal look like? How is it used?

Does Food Alliance certification address food safety for shellfish?

How does this compare to other seafood certification programs for shellfish?

How does Food Alliance certification relate to the Seafood Watch program?

What is the FA Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish Operations?

The FA Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish Operations provides a comprehensive definition to guide oyster, clam, geoduck, and mussel farm operators in achieving greater sustainability outcomes. Performance to the standard is measured using the corresponding FA Sustainability Evaluation Tool for Farmed Shellfish Operations. The Evaluation Tool allows growers to self-assess current sustainability performance and set sustainability objectives – either as a prelude to certification or as a best management practice. Third-party inspectors use the Evaluation Tool to determine if an operation meets the requirements of the FA Sustainability Certification program for Farmed Shellfish Operations.

Why did Food Alliance develop this standard?

Food Alliance developed the Farmed Shellfish Standard in response to a request made by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA). In addition to the PCSGA’s Environmental Codes of Practice, some association members desired the marketing benefits of an independent certification. PCGSA is also concerned about competition with foreign shellfish growers, some of which operate with low environmental standards and under limited regulatory oversight.

How did Food Alliance develop the Farmed Shellfish Standard?

The first step was to secure the necessary resources to create the standards, evaluation criteria and certification infrastructure. Food Alliance secured grants from the Keith Campbell Foundation, Wildlife Forever Fund, and the Russell Family Foundation for this purpose.

The shellfish evaluation criteria were developed in collaboration with Andrew D. Suhrbier, Senior Biologist with the Pacific Shellfish Institute, Olympia, WA.

The following individuals reviewed and provided comment on the evaluation criteria**:

  • Lisa Bishop, Little Skookum Shellfish
  • Colin Brannen, Aquaculture Program Officer, World Wildlife Fund;
  • Dan Cheney, Senior Scientist, Pacific Shellfish Institute;
  • John Finger, Hog Island Oyster Co.
  • Becky Goldburg, Director of Marine Science, Pew Environmental Group, Pew Charitable Trust;
  • Brian Kingzett, Blue Revolution Consulting Group;
  • Marco Pinchot, Community Relations and Sustainability Manager, Taylor Shellfish Co.;
  • John Lentz, Chelsea Farms, LLC.
  • Sandy Shumway, University of Connecticut, Department of Marine Sciences;

** Not all reviewer comments and suggestions were incorporated in the final draft of these evaluation criteria, so recognition of their contribution does not constitute an endorsement.

What are the environmental impacts of shellfish aquaculture?

Practiced responsibly, shellfish aquaculture can itself be environmentally beneficial. Shellfish remove nitrogen, phosphate and other nutrients from the water as they feed. A single oyster can filter as much as 120 liters of water each day, and an acre of cultivated oysters can offset the nitrogenous wastes of 50 households. Shellfish also help offset carbon dioxide emissions by incorporating carbon in their shells.

Properly managed, shellfish aquaculture can also enhance habitat diversity, thereby benefiting a variety of organisms. Researchers have found that there is greater diversity and richness of species in sea beds with shellfish farming gear than in bare seabed or seabed habitat with eelgrass. Recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded research found that mussel culture lines support more than 100 invertebrate species, and shiner perch and juvenile Pacific herring are seasonally concentrated in this habitat.

Tidelands that support shellfish aquaculture also provide critical foraging habitat for a large variety of water birds. Researchers have found that the population and diversity of 7 of 13 shorebirds and 3 of 4 wading birds was greater in tidelands with cultivated oyster beds.

However, shellfish aquaculture can also have negative environmental impacts. Identified risks include ecosystem integrity (with affects on surrounding habitat and the ecological community), disease and pest management (with potential for disease and pest transfer, pathogen loading, and use of chemical treatments), waste management (with lost gear and related debris, chemicals, and organic waste; processing of wastes; treatment of effluent; and maintenance of equipment), and multi-use issues (location, development, and aesthetics of aquaculture sites and conflicts with other resource users).

How does the farmed shellfish standard address pest management?

Food Alliance certified producers make informed decisions regarding pest management and pesticide use. They employ cultural and biological pest prevention strategies to reduce or eliminate the need for pesticide applications. When pesticides are needed, they select effective materials with the fewest known environmental and health hazards for appropriate pest control outcomes. Food Alliance producers properly maintain application equipment to ensure precise applications and monitor weather conditions to prevent pesticide drift. When combined, these practices create an Integrated Pest Management strategy adapted to local conditions. As such, Food Alliance producers are able to deliver economically effective pest control while minimizing negative impacts to human health and the environment.

Food Alliance recognizes that there are some circumstances under which producers may not have complete management control over pest management on their operations. Where local, regional, state or federal regulations require producers to comply with pest management programs, e.g. invasive species management, Food Alliance will make allowances for applications that fall outside the Food Alliance standards.

Food Alliance certified shellfish farmers whose farms include upland areas are evaluated using criteria similar to those applied to terrestrial producers. Aquatic applications of pesticides are not allowed except as legally required, e.g. control of Spartina, an invasive species.

Food Alliance makes a temporary exception for the aquatic application of pesticides to control burrowing shrimp in Willapa Bay, WA and Grays Harbor, WA. Shellfish producers in these locations currently are allowed to spray carbaryl in restricted areas under a strict IPM guideline.

How do I know Food Alliance shellfish certification is right for my operation?

Food Alliance certification best suits producers and handlers who:

  1. Actively manage their operations with environmental and community impacts in mind,
  2. Have a commitment to continually strive to innovate and do better, and
  3. Wish to differentiate their company and its products in the marketplace through thoughtful marketing that highlights their sustainable practices.

Producers and handlers should understand that certification is a tool that supports their brand and marketing claims with independent verification their operation meets a meaningful, stakeholder reviewed, openly published standard for sustainability.

What is the certification process for Food Alliance Certified shellfish operations?

Shellfish producers interested in pursuing Food Alliance Certification should read the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard for Farmed Shellfish, the Evaluation Tool, and the Policy and Procedures Manual, and then complete an application.

Once an application is received and reviewed, Food Alliance will forward the documents to an independent, third-party inspector who will contact the operation to schedule a site inspection.

During the inspection, the inspector will tour the operation, interview managers and key staff, and review relevant records to evaluate performance using the Whole Shellfish and species specific inspection tools.

After the site visit, the inspector submits inspection reports (including all pertinent inspection tools) to Food Alliance. Food Alliance reviews the site report and sends the applicant an inspection summary report listing their evaluation scores, and an inspection response form listing certification conditions (if issued) and suggestions for improvement.

When the applicant’s responses are approved by Food Alliance, certification is granted and a certification letter issued.

Once certification is granted, the Food Alliance Certified producer must maintain certification and use it to market their certified products. The term of certification for shellfish producers is three years. The term of certification for processors and distributors is one year. The official start date will be specified in the certification letter along with the products that may be labeled as Food Alliance Certified.

Does my handling facility need to be inspected and certified by Food Alliance?

A Food Alliance inspection is required for any shellfish packing or processing facility (“handling” facility) preparing and selling Food Alliance Certified products. Handling facilities that change the form of live shellfish (i.e. shucking, smoking, cooking) must apply for Food Alliance’s handling operation program and achieve either Food Alliance handler certification or restricted handler approval. These shellfish handlers must undergo a similar process as producers. The Handler manual and application materials can be found here.

If a shellfish handling facility is simply cleaning and packaging the live product, and it has a traceability and labeling system in place that ensures commingling of Food Alliance Certified and non-certified products does not occur, inspection of that facility may be included as part of the farm inspection and a separate handling operation application and inspection is NOT required. For more information, contact Food Alliance at info@foodalliance.org.

How much does it cost to get Food Alliance Certified?

Shellfish Production
There are two types of fees: Inspection fees and licensing fees.

Inspection Fees

A payment of $750 is due with the application. This includes a non-refundable $350 document processing charge and a $400 deposit towards the actual cost of the inspection.

The processing charge covers review of applications, coordination of the inspection, review of inspection reports, and the recommendation for certification.

Inspection costs include inspector time and travel expenses, which may vary depending upon the location, number of facilities, number of production lines, etc. The balance for inspection costs is invoiced upon completion of the inspection and is payable in 30 days.

The total to inspect a shellfish production site averages around $1,200. Food Alliance certification is valid for 3 years, so you can think about the pro-rated cost for inspection fees being $400 per year.

On request, Food Alliance can provide an estimate for the cost of inspection before you submit your application for certification, based on your location and the size and complexity of the operation.

Licensing Fees

Gross Sales Licensing Percentage
First $150,000 0.4% or $200 minimum
Next $150,000 0.2%
Additional Sales 0.1$

Members of cooperatives and producer groups who jointly market products pay licensing fees using the same fee schedule as independent producers. However, these groups aggregate all sales when calculating licensing fees.

In order for a cooperative or joint marketing group to be certified:

  • The group must submit an estimate of annual gross sales of products to be certified.
  • The group must identify all of the farm and ranch members who will be providing certified products for sale.
  • Food Alliance must receive completed certification applications and the above fee for each of the appropriate members.

Producers growing for contracts which require Food Alliance certification pay the inspection fees described above, but pay a licensing fee based only on the value of goods sold under that contract (not gross sales of the products). Contract producers must meet all Food Alliance criteria for the product in question, but are not allowed to label products or assert Food Alliance certification claims about products outside of the specifying contract.

Shellfish Handling Facilities
Food Alliance certified handling facilities are subject to an at-cost annual inspection fee (which may vary depending upon location, number of facilities, number of production lines, etc.), and annual licensing fees based on sales of Food Alliance certified product(s). Learn more about handler fees.

What does the certification seal look like? How is it used?

The Food Alliance Certified seal for shellfish looks like this:


Guidance on how to display and use the seals can be found in the Food Alliance Marketing Guide.

Does Food Alliance certification for farmed shellfish address food safety?

In the United States, shellfish farming is already governed under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. These standards include regular monitoring for fecal coliform bacteria (as an indicator for potential pathogens in the water), vibrio diseases, harmful algal toxins, heavy metals and other contaminants.

As a sustainable agriculture certification, Food Alliance challenges certified businesses to assess and manage a wide variety of risks to human and environmental health. A number of the certification criteria, such as the expectation that workers have access to sanitary restrooms and hand-washing facilities, contribute directly to food safety. Many others, such as criteria designed to prevent wastes or chemicals from entering the water supply, serve human and environmental health more broadly.

In addition to certifying producers, Food Alliance also certifies food handling operations – including packers, processors and distributors. That certification process includes verification that handlers have plans and programs in place to help ensure food safety.

How does this compare to other seafood certification programs for shellfish?

Food Alliance was the first to offer certification for farmed bivalves (oysters, clams, geoducks, mussels) in North America – but there are now other programs to consider.

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) has completed its standards setting process and agencies such as Scientific Certification Systems have been accredited to conduct certifications.

On the surface, Food Alliance and ASC standards appear to cover a similar set of issues. However, it is important to understand that Food Alliance’s standards were written for implementation exclusively in North America. The ASC standards were written to provide an industry baseline worldwide – including in third-world contexts where there may not be adequate regulation or enforcement.

We believe that Food Alliance sets a higher and more meaningful standard for farmed shellfish, and for markets in North America can help distinguish domestically produced shellfish from imports.

Food Alliance’s inspection and licensing fees for farmed shellfish certification are also reportedly significant lower than the cost for ASC certification.

How does Food Alliance certification relate to the Seafood Watch program?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list is a valuable tool that helps restaurants, retailers, and consumers make seafood purchase decisions. Seafood Watch rates farmed shellfish worldwide as a “Best Choice” and says “Farmed oysters account for 95 percent of the world’s total oyster consumption. Most oyster farming operations are very well managed and produce a sustainable product.”

However, Seafood Watch does not assess or certify the sustainability of individual suppliers. Food Alliance is an independent, non-profit organization that goes beyond general species or production/harvest method recommendations to distinguish well-managed shellfish farming operations so that managers can further differentiate and add value to their products in the marketplace. This may be particularly beneficial for domestic producers competing with international suppliers that may not be held to the same regulatory or industry practice expectations.

Suggest Edit