SEAFOODNEWS.COM    by John Sackton  10:31 PM April 10, 2015

Virtually all of Alaska’s abundant wild salmon will be harvested under MSC certification as well as the existing RFM certification this summer.   The major processors representing more than 70% of Alaskan Wild Salmon who withdrew from the MSC program in 2010, are in discussions with the Marine Stewardship Council and the existing client group to offer MSC certified salmon.

Ocean Beauty, Peter Pan, Trident, Icicle, Alaska General Seafoods, Leader Creek and North Pacific Seafoods, Kwikpak Fisheries LLC, Triad Fisheries and Yukon Gold have joined with Copper River Seafoods, Silver Bay, Double E Foods, 10th & M and some smaller producers to land and process salmon that will be eligible for the Marine Stewardship Council chain of custody certification.

This agreement comes about as both the salmon market and the certification landscape have changed significantly since 2010.  It was announced late Friday in Seattle.

First, the MSC has proved to be a professional organization with a very robust standard.  Through their participation in the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative they have indicated willingness to live in a world where multiple sustainability certifications are accepted.

One key for the Alaskan companies has been that rejoining the MSC would not detract from continued robust support for the FAO Based Responsible Fisheries Management certification.  The RFM program, which also certifies Alaska salmon, is being adapted by ASMI to meet requirements of the GSSI benchmark.

With major retailers, suppliers, the FAO, and development organizations in both the Netherlands and Germany all coalescing around the GSSI sustainability benchmark, the chance of a monopoly by a single sustainability standard has greatly lessened.  Furthermore, the GSSI process and its secretariat has shown a strong commitment to creating a widely supported credible benchmark.

Furthermore, as retailers grapple with new supply chain issues including labor standards, protection from slave labor, and how standards are applied across the entire range of products being sold to customers, the need for simpler and more transparent seafood sustainability standards is driving these developments.  Retailers are embracing a variety of methods for communicating sustainability.

For example, Walmart has found that all Alaska salmon meets The Sustainability Consortium guidelines it supports, and it currently features Alaska salmon under its ‘sustainability leaders’ program.

During the Boston Seafood Show, Metro, the fifth largest global retailer, based in Germany but operating in 30 countries, said they would embrace all seafood certifications that met the GSSI benchmark.  Many other European retailers, such as Ahold, are expected to follow suit.

In this context, the Alaska Brand represents the best seafood sustainability, practices globally.  Alaska has the track record of historic recovery and rebuilding of wild salmon to levels of abundance not seen in hundreds of years, and Alaska can easily maintain its brand integrity in a world with a range of eco-labels.

As the MSC started with Alaska Fisheries, it is appropriate that all Alaska fisheries remain available within the MSC system, for those buyers who want this choice.

“This decision is based on the recognition that both the salmon market and certification landscape have changed in recent years,” said Stefanie Moreland, Director of Government Relations and Seafood Sustainability at Trident Seafoods. “Today, there is growing market acceptance for multiple sustainability certifications, underscored by the significant progress made in establishing a common global benchmark for certification programs.”

Moreland added, “The successful launch of Alaska’s RFM program in 2010 and its ongoing growth and evolution was undoubtedly a major factor in this market shift, and we continue to pledge our full support for the RFM program.”

Adopting both RFM and MSC certification would eliminate arbitrary sustainability product differentiation in the market place for Alaska salmon and ensure that even more consumers around the world will be able to enjoy the world’s most sustainable and high-quality seafood.

“We project historic runs of wild Alaska salmon this year, and it is important that as many global retailers as possible have access to our abundant supply,” said Barry Collier, President and CEO of Peter Pan Seafoods. “We recognize different markets have different preferences for certification, which is why we look forward to offering choice.”

As a testament to the long-standing sustainability success of Alaska’s seafood industry, the 2015 run of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon is projected to be approximately 50% larger than the long-term mean, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“In Alaska, we work hard to ensure that we maintain the most advanced and rigorous science-based approach to ensuring the sustainable management of our fisheries,” said Jeff Regnart, Director of ADF&G’s Commercial Fisheries.  “The decision of the Alaska salmon producers to expand their certification options reaffirms Alaska’s commitment to keeping responsible fisheries management at its core, and to promoting choice and competition in the marketplace.”

The idea that some buyers may not have access to the salmon production capacity they need was another factor in the decision of the major producers to rejoin the MSC.  With the Bristol Bay Sockeye Run projected to be 50% above the long-term average, the major producers are eager this year to compete head to head with Russian sockeye for those buyers who require MSC certification in Europe.  With a more robust, transparent, and better sustainability record than the Russian salmon fisheries, the Alaskans wanted to make sure all European customers had the choice of Alaska Seafood – which ASMI calls the ‘Gold Standard.’

There are many significant fisheries issues being faced in Alaska, including how to best manage hatchery salmon, what to do about declining harvests of chinook salmon, and how to protect salmon habitat state wide.  With these issues now the focus of salmon management efforts, and being seriously addressed by all certification schemes including both RFM and the MSC, it did not make sense to continue to prevent customers who wanted the MSC chain of custody from having it.

The decision to rejoin the MSC chain of custody certification for Alaska salmon will benefit everyone:  the customers, the certification schemes, the fishery managers, and state of Alaska, which supports getting the highest value possible from the state’s salmon resources.

The Marine Stewardship Council welcomed the decision of the Alaska producers.  Geoff Bolan, the Marine Stewardship Council’s U.S. Program Director said “The MSC is happy to learn of these companies’ desire to rejoin the group of MSC certified Alaska salmon processors. Many of these companies have been involved in the MSC program for a long time as Chain of Custody certificate holders and participants in MSC certified fisheries.

“The discussion on how these companies may join the existing client group, Alaska Salmon Processors Association, which holds the current MSC certificate, remains between the Association and the applicant companies.

“The MSC has worked closely with the Alaska seafood industry for more than a decade and we look forward to maintaining and strengthening our partnership.”

The Marine Stewardship Council’s Certification of Alaska Salmon, as completed by Intertek Moody Marine, applies to 13 out of 14 units of certification.  Prince William Sound pink salmon was not included in the latest assessment to the MSC standard, as ongoing State of Alaska research on hatchery impacts has not been completed.

The certification applies to all five species of salmon, and all commercially licensed salmon harvesters.   The revised MSC 2.0 standard requires that for every certification where additional companies or harvesters are qualified to join the client group, but have not yet done so, the client must make a public commitment as to how other companies can join the client group.  For Alaska Salmon, this commitment letter was issued in 2013, and carried over from the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association to the new client group established by Silver Bay, Copper river and some other smaller producers.

Virtually all the companies rejoining the client group have existing chain of custody certifications for other Alaska products certified by the MSC.  Once they join the salmon certification client group, they will be able to add MSC salmon to their already existing chain of custody certifications.

John Sackton, Editor and Publisher 1-781-861-1441
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