Naturland is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and operates under International Federation of Organic Aquaculture Movements (IFOAM) guidelines. It has lent its green and white certification seal to 38,000 farmers or cooperative groups throughout the world.

Naturland boasts a roster of more than 50 certified seafood operations. The group is helping farmers in India’s coastal area of Andhra shift to organic aquaculture in response to concerns in the United States and Europe about levels of antibiotics in shrimp exported from India.

It certified its first organic aquaculture operation – a carp farmer — in 1994. The next year, it approved an organic seal for Ireland-based Clare Island Seafarm’s farmed Atlantic salmon. The organic fish is carried by U.S. natural food chain Wild Oats Markets, which decided to stop selling non-organic farmed salmon.

“I think there generally is an increased awareness in the marketplace for organic seafood products and the desire by the public to buy organic, if possible,” said Chris Harris, resource manager for London-based Anchor Seafoods.

Anchor, a division of The Seafood Co., which was purchased by Canadian seafood giant FPI Ltd. in September, imports certified organic shrimp from organic shrimp producer BioCentinela, located in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

BioCentinela is one of only a handful of certified organic shrimp production companies in the world, most located in Ecuador. The shrimp company’s facilities are on Puna Island, in the Riohondo Inlet of Ecuador. Not only do the company’s shrimp farming activities need to be certified organic, so does its reproduction and production of the larvae, and its processing plant.

For its shrimp processing operations, BioCentinela contracts with major shrimp packer Expalsa, located in Guayaquil, which also earned organic certification from Naturland for its organic production line.

The cornerstone of the company’s organic production system is its mandate to conserve and regenerate the environment. Certifying aquaculture species as organic means making sure salmon farms maintain correct stocking densities and serve up just the right mix in its feed.

It also means restoring mangroves used by shrimp farms and even ensuring a minimum of labor standards are upheld. “If you look at aerial pictures of conventional shrimp farms, you don’t see any green,” said Katia Santistevan, BioCentinela’s head of marketing and sales, referring to the massive deforestation of mangroves that occurred during the early days of shrimp aquaculture.

Mangrove restoration is written into BioCentinela’s organic regulations. When the company purchased the shrimp farm, it sought to achieve a similar composition of the natural mangrove forest. “We’re giving back to nature,” she said. “The mangrove was cut down by the conventional industry when it began 20 years ago.”

BioCentinela organically rears and grows about a million pounds of shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) annually. The company sells both organic cooked, indivdually quick frozen (IQF) and raw shrimp to international markets under its “Mangrove Bay” brand, or for private-label customers. The main destinations for Biocentinela’s organic shrimp are the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, and Canada.

Since December, the company has been importing organic spices and marinade,s and producing and vacuum packing value-added organic shrimp meals that are shipped to customers abroad. Santistevan said close relations with importers help her company decide which flavors to introduce to a particular market.

BioCentinela typically seeks a 25 percent to 30 percent margin on organic shrimp sales to cover higher expenses, she said. Although that sounds like someone is getting rich quick, Santistevan cautions would-be entrepreneurs there are a lot of expenses to cover.

“Producers must not be lured by rumors of a premium market. It’s not a commodity and it’s not about producing at the lowest cost,” she said. “We don’t want people to feel that this is a boom business. We don’t want people to jump in without valuing what organic is.” The downside to the organic food industry’s success is the imminent entry of other players hoping to cash in on the industry’s double-digit growth.

Anchor’s Harris said that approach just isn’t practical. “There definitely isn’t some magic formula to switch on and say, ‘I’m going to be organic tomorrow,’” Harris said. “It’s a long process.”