Alaska salmon packers leave sustainability certification program

KMXT RadioJanuary 20, 2012 

KODIAK -- Seventy-five percent of Alaska's salmon packers have decided to pull out of the Marine Stewardship Council's fisheries certification program when the current agreement expires at the end of October.

Those processors are Trident, Icicle, Ocean Beauty, Peter Pan, Alaska General, E-and-E, Kwikpak and North Pacific.

The council uses third-party verification of a fishery's sustainability and adherence to best practices.

The board of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation concurred with the move on Monday. That organization has been an MSC client since February 2010, after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game pulled out as the client for the Alaska.

In an announcement Tuesday, Fish and Game Director James Browning said his organization would continue to work this year to ensure the 2012 Alaska salmon harvest remains eligible to carry the MSC logo. In 2011 the MSC certified 287,000 metric tons of Alaska salmon, or 8.7 percent of all the fisheries the London-based organization certifies.

MSC certification had once been a rare and valued indicator of a fishery's sustainability, but as more and more fisheries became certified, the cachet has diminished, according to industry watcher John Sackton of Seafood.com. He says in an editorial published Wednesday that the certification became not so much a marketing advantage as simply the price of entry into mainstream retail sales.

"The fact is that once a great majority or a lot of fisheries are sustainable, the fact that you have a sustainable seal or certificate is no longer a strategic marketing advantage," Sackton said. "What the Alaskan producers have found is that they would be better off spending their marketing money to promote the intrinsic values of Alaska salmon and the product benefits."

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Executive Director Ray Riutta said in an announcement that ASMI will provide third-party certification through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Responsible Fisheries Management program. ASMI spokesman Tyson Fick says the cost for the program will not be passed on to producers.

According to a McDowell Group study in 2008, MSC certification cost Fish and Game $2.7 million, with individual processor costs ranging from $4,000 to $180,000. Fick says the cost today is likely higher.

United Fishermen of Alaska president Arni Thompson welcomed the announcement, saying it was in the best interest of the Alaska salmon fishery.

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