After months of questions, Alaska seafood is a go for Wal-Mart stores.
The retail giant announced Friday that it had revised its sustainable seafood sourcing policy to include Alaska's Responsible Fisheries Management program, months after the company questioned the validity of the new sustainability certification program.
That led to a barrage of criticism from Alaska fishermen and Alaska's congressional delegation, who called Wal-Mart and others to testify in front of a congressional committee.
The decision drew swift praise in Alaska Friday.
"Alaska's sustainable wild seafood continues to be its own best advocate, and today's announcement from Wal-Mart is clear vindication of our superior sustainable management practices," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement.
Sen. Mark Begich, who called Wal-Mart executives to testify before a congressional committee on the matter this summer, was happy the company finally made a decision after months of consideration.
"This just confirms what we knew all along," he said.
This summer, Wal-Mart announced it would only sell seafood deemed sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Alaska fisheries began withdrawing from the MSC program in early 2013 in favor of the Responsible Fisheries Management standards certification through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Alaska has always contended its fisheries are sustainable, and it cited the high costs and slow progress of the council to re-certify the Prince William Sound salmon fishery as reasons to dump the MSC eco-label.
Wal-Mart's decision left fishermen and politicians wondering whether Alaska seafood would still find its way into Wal-Mart's 4,000 retail stores, since the company did not cite the ASMI program as meeting its sustainability standards. According to Wal-Mart, 97 percent of its salmon alone comes from Alaska.
Despite the slow progress, Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Susan Bell said the department could see things progressing.
"I know it felt long, I know there were skeptics, but we could see the continued communications," she said.
Bell was involved in numerous conversations with Wal-Mart and even traveled to the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters to meet with executives. She said the company was very clear that Alaska seafood was important, but that they needed to understand the certification program and how it aligned with Wal-Mart's commitment to sustainability. That involved getting approval from The Sustainability Consortium before accepting Alaska's certification.
"(The acceptance) reinforces what we've been telling them," she said. "It's another endorsement."
ASMI Spokesman Tyson Fick called the decision "very good news for Alaska," since the company is one of Alaska's biggest seafood customers. He also noted that Wal-Mart's decision to take a look at the certification program was good for it as a whole.
"We constantly seek to improve the strength and validity of what we're doing," he said. "This was a great opportunity for dialogue."
And hopefully, include the purchase of a whole lot of seafood for decades to come, according to David Baskin, vice president of meat and seafood for Wal-Mart.
"Walmart has proudly sourced seafood from the state of Alaska for many years, and under our newly revised sustainable sourcing policy, we will continue to do so," he said in a statement Friday.