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.