Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fishermen wary of ASMI partnership with MSC

What's that blue logo really worth, anyway? Wesley Loy photo

The board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute on Thursday signaled its "preliminary intent" to become the Marine Stewardship Council's new "client" on salmon.

That's a surprise, as many industry players sensed something of a rivalry between the two organizations as to who can best tell the world that Alaska's salmon fisheries are sustainable and well-managed.

The MSC is a London-based outfit that awards qualifying fisheries the right to use its blue ecolabel on their products. The label reportedly has become important for selling fish to European buyers, and to major retailers such as Walmart.

Alaska salmon won MSC certification in 2000. All along, the MSC's salmon "client" has been the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

But last year the department sent this letter saying it wasn't so interested in continuing as client. Generally, industry groups seek MSC certification, not government agencies, Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd wrote.

Besides, Fish and Game officials have said, maintaining certification through periodic reviews is tedious and very expensive.

Many in the industry grumble that Alaska salmon needs no validation from an outside certifier, that the world already knows the state's iconic fish is excellent and the harvests stringently managed.

The trouble for the MSC is that the current certification for Alaska salmon expires at the end of the month.

The organization has appeared to be near desperate to keep Alaska's major fisheries, including salmon and Bering Sea pollock, in the MSC fold, as this confidential letter from 2006 indicates.

Now it appears ASMI, a state agency, is ready to dive in as the MSC's salmon client.

That's got the state's top commercial fishing organization, United Fishermen of Alaska, in a bit of a huff. The fishermen feel left out of the loop and wonder where ASMI can find the necessary funding in its lean budget.

ASMI spokeswoman Laura Fleming told Deckboss after Thursday's board meeting in Anchorage that ASMI needs answers from the MSC on a few issues before firmly committing as its salmon client.


Anonymous said...

Yeah...kind of funny, Wesley. I thought ASMI developed their "Gold Standard" label-thing as an alternative to MSC. Not that it had any kind of independent review to go along with was just "Sustainable Because We Say It Is".

Still, I have never been much of a fan of the MSC because of all the other politics that are involved in their process, besides simply an independent review of the sustainability (which it's supposed to be). To some degree, I wish salmon and pollock had pulled out a few years ago and driven a stake through its heart.

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that if Alaska continues with MSC the politics are going to get muddy. I recall some heavy requirements laid out by MSC with regards to our hatchery program and recertification. In particular the PWSAC program. I do not see how we can possibly meet the sustainability requirements under the MSC standards with the high stray rates in Prince William Sound. So where does that leave us other than to split the state up into different recertification regions, reduce our hatchery output or hope they back off on the recertification requirements for hatchery releases. Overall my thought is, good or bad, that the pressure on the hatcheries is going to magnify if MSC continues.

Having the MSC certification certainly seems to being doing good things for our markets in Europe. Secondly, at this point it seems to be our only viable scientific based method for certification outside of certifying ourselves with no methodology to back it up.

Anonymous said...

The MSC certification comes with a very high dollar cost. Their process is slow and tedious. Like every other international body, it is totally political.
By the way, ASMI's funds are fully allocated. I say let the MSC certification go by the wayside.

Anonymous said...

What a great collection of comments - generally running down the aisle of:

Alaska salmon and pollock are sustainable because we say it is sustainable, and that should be good enough for the global market place.

Then,we also know there are major problems with PWSAC ub PWS, hatchery problems and straying to be exact, problems Wesley brings up in the ADFG letter to PWSAC - and there doesn't seem to be any teeth or follow-up from the state.

Classic case where independent certification is necessary.

Yeah, you can say MSC is politics - but just look at PWSAC and ADFG - if that ain't a muddied, political mess, then nothing else is.

Independent certification is the 21st century way of doing business.

If you ain't on board, the train is leaving the station without you and the farmed salmon industry will continue to laugh all the way to the bank.

Anonymous said...

okay (this is in response to the above post dated Oct 5)...I'm not a marketing expert, but from what I understand and have heard, the MSC certification has been valuable to some companies pushing Ak salmon, particularly in the EU. Still, just because there are politics in other aspects of fish management (PWSAC, as you mention) does not excuse the politics that WWF and others have exerted on the "intependent" certification of the MSC. Two wrongs don't make a right. The MSC needs to clean up it's act if they want people to pay them to "certify" their fisheries.

Arrogance is everywhere in fish mgmt. ADFG has it, ASMI has it and the MSC has it.