Holy Oncorhynchus! Any doubts about the brand power of Alaska salmon can be put to rest after the high visibility contretemps over the past few weeks -- and the fish story has a happy ending.
All of Alaska's "powers that be" converged on Wal-Mart and the National Park Service (NPS) when both reportedly snubbed Alaska salmon over a labeling issue. Both Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Mark Begich sent letters to Wal-Mart blasting the ill-advised decision, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski verbally (and very publicly) spanked the NPS for not following its own rules.
The dustup stemmed from Alaska's decision to opt out of a pricey eco-label by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that Wal-Mart has used since 2006 to guide its purchases of seafood from sustainably managed fisheries. The process is complex and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to an industry or trade group -- but a green label has become part of doing seafood business around the globe.
The London-based MSC spearheaded the sustainable seafood movement in 1997 and can take credit for setting the standards followed by other groups in the fisheries certifying business. Ironically, Alaska salmon was the MSC's first "poster fish," but the state and industry are in the process of transitioning to another fisheries certifier called Global Trust.
A routine letter sent to its seafood suppliers whipped things up at Wal-Mart, said Chris Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications.
"The letter contained a footnote saying that at this point, Alaska salmon did not have an equivalent certification. People interpreted that to mean that Wal-Mart would no longer be purchasing Alaska salmon," Schraeder said in a phone call from Wal-Mart's Arkansas headquarters.
It is the first time Wal-Mart has found itself in this type of eco-incident, he added, saying that the company commissioned two studies earlier this year to review the standards of other certifiers to make sure the company can deliver on its Earth-friendly fishing commitment.
"What we are really asking is for ASMI (Alaska Fish Marketing Institute) and others who are closely involved in the industry to educate us and give us information so we can make a sound assessment," Schraeder said.
"We are proud to offer Alaska salmon in our stores," said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability. "It is important to us because we know it is important to our customers."
Wal-Mart last week invited Alaska to send a team to its headquarters "to educate senior executives and buyers about Alaska's sustainable fisheries and management practices," Parnell said in a prepared statement sent to news media.
Meanwhile, Murkowski followed up with U.S. Department of the Interior officials to make sure that Alaska salmon can be on the menus at food outlets at nearly 130 parks and monuments nationwide.
The senator grilled National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and he conceded: "What I am willing to do is change the guidelines so it includes Alaska wild caught fish. I think that's the simple fix here."
After a meeting with Jarvis on Friday, Murkowski said she believes the perspective of Park Service officials has been broadened, "not just for Alaska, but for all U.S. fisheries."
"We've turned heads in the right direction," Murkowski said in a quick phone call as she headed back to Alaska from Washington for the August break.
Salmon sales 2012
A snapshot of salmon sales through 2012 shows some good signs for sockeyes. The Alaska Salmon Price Report by the Alaska Department of Revenue's Tax Division shows market prices for salmon by species, region and product. Here's a snapshot of 2012 wholesale prices along with some telling comparisons:
The bulk of Alaska's salmon pack goes to markets frozen whole, headed and gutted. Those values for sockeye salmon continued to slide last year, averaging $2.89 a pound, compared to $3.20 in 2011.
That trend already has turned around this year, however -- the average price for frozen sockeye salmon ticked up a dime from January through April. Canned reds jumped to $193 per case of talls, a $23 increase from the previous year. Lower supplies and strong demand should keep upward pressure on sockeye sales prices throughout the year.
Frozen pink salmon prices took a dip last year, averaging $1.29 a pound, down from $1.44.
Pink salmon roe prices averaged $10.29 a pound in 2012, an increase of $2.63 a pound and bringing the total value to more than $100 million. Pink salmon roe prices from January through April of this year topped $12 a pound.
Chums followed a similar pattern. Frozen chums averaged $1.38 a pound, a drop of 44 cents from 2011. But chum roe rang in at nearly $17 a pound for a total value of $120 million. And prices of chum salmon roe through April topped $20 per pound.
Aug. 4 marked the 223rd birthday of our nation's oldest seagoing service -- the U.S. Coast Guard.
The USCG was launched in 1790 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service when the first Congress gave orders to build 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws and prevent smuggling. At the time, that was the only source of revenue for the federal government. The Coast Guard was called the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915, when it was merged with the Life-Saving Service and received its present name from Congress.
Back then, historians say, rescuers would use small cannon to fire a sort of giant clothesline toward the masts of stranded ships. Attached to the line was a bulky pair of canvas pants, which sailors would climb into and be hauled ashore.
In the Coast Guard's Top 10 list of most memorable missions, the response to Hurricane Katrina ranks as No. 1. The Coast Guard is credited with saving more than 33,000 people after it took charge there.
Two Alaska events made the list.
One is the rescue of 520 people after a fire broke out and sank the cruise ship Prinsendam 130 miles off Ketchikan in 1980.
In 1897, six Coast Guardsmen set off from a cutter near Point Barrow to save the crews of eight whaling ships trapped in the ice. Using dog sleds, they brought 400 reindeer to the whalers in a 1,500-mile journey that took more than two months.
The single largest rescue effort in Coast Guard history was in 1937, when a flood on the Mississippi River led to the rescue of 44,000 people -- and more than 100,000 head of livestock.
Today, roughly 40,000 men and women serve in the Coast Guard. The service is credited with saving more than 1 million lives and counting.