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Processors end impasse over sustainability certification

Gridlock over who has access to the Marine Stewardship Council's blue sustainability label appears to finally be over.

The Pacific Salmon Processors Association, or PSPA, will take over the MSC clientship from the Alaska Salmon Processors Association by October. Any processor will be able to join the new group.

Several Bristol Bay processors, including Trident, Ocean Beauty, Peter Pan, North Pacific and Icicle, have sought to join ASPA's client group since this spring, but the issue has been increasingly contentious, with the MSC suggesting binding arbitration to resolve it.

Earlier this month, PSPA stepped in and said it would apply for a second certification for Alaska salmon on behalf of those processors, in an attempt to break the gridlock. PSPA will no longer seek that certification, according to President Glenn Reed.

ASPA Executive Director Rob Zuanich said his organization agreed to hand over the certificate because of how divisive the issue had become.

"I think with the announcement by PSPA to start a new group and a new assessment, we thought it was just in the best interest of the industry to consolidate activities and put this matter behind us," Zuanich said.

ASPA is led by Silver Bay Seafoods, another major Bay processor. Copper River Seafoods is also a member.

Reed said that for PSPA, taking over the new client group is a less-risky way of ensuring that all processors will have access to MSC markets next summer, Reed said.

PSPA had realized that the new certificate might not be available by next summer.

"If our application to process were to receive objections from someone, the time that is required, even in a fishery that is already certified, to stand up a second group might put us in a position that by next summer we wouldn't have an active certificate," Reed said. "… The benefit to us in going with the existing certificate and trying to get everybody in, I think the initial benefit is that there's certainty that we'll all have the opportunity to use the MSC program for sales next year."

Zuanich said ASPA is not asking PSPA to reimburse it for prior costs associated with the certificate, but the new group will be responsible for new costs going forward.

"No cost, just the new client group will now be responsible for maintaining the annual surveillance audits on the current certificate and hopefully in 2018 we'll continue the certificate," Zuanich said.

The MSC's blue label typically isn't cheap. Reed said PSPA is still determining how it will divvy up those costs, but it may be done either by weight or another metric.

"Our goal is to have an equal cost sharing basis," Reed said. "There may be other considerations, but the cost sharing basis will be the same for all members that choose to join."

The new group is expected to bring together the members of the old group, as well as those who were trying to join it.

"We're anticipating that it's going to be most of those that have expressed interest over the last month, and if so, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 different companies," Reed said.

Zuanich said Silver Bay Seafoods will remain a member of the new group.

The current certificate applies to most, but not all, of Alaska's salmon fisheries. Prince William Sound is excluded. Reeds says that could change in the future.

Molly Dischner is the fisheries reporter at KDLG in Dillingham.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.