State officials are confident — although not sure — Walmart stores will continue purchasing Alaska seafood, following a series of discussions and tours in Juneau with company executives this week.
Walmart made a commitment in 2011 to only buy and sell fish certified as sustainable by the widely-recognized Marine Stewardship Council, and wanted proof that Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s certification program — the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization-based Responsible Fisheries Management — stacks up against MSC.
The company’s July 2013 decision to no longer purchase Alaska salmon evoked a response from Alaska’s fishing industry and Gov. Sean Parnell, prompting a September 2013 visit by state representatives to Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters. According to Susan Bell, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, 97 percent of Walmart’s salmon comes from Alaska.
Chris Schraeder, Walmart’s senior manager of sustainability communications, said in a Wednesday statement that the company intends to continue purchasing Alaska salmon if the company determines RFM to be up to snuff.
“Walmart remains committed to buying Alaska seafood, and we’re excited that ASMI has agreed to work with us to ensure the RFM standard meets the principles for credible sustainable fisheries programs as developed by The Sustainability Consortium,” he said in the statement. “The Consortium is expected to release its principles in the coming days.”
Bell and Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute spokesman Tyson Fick held a press conference Wednesday following talks with Walmart representatives.
Fick said Walmart is willing to accept other sustainability certifications besides MSC, but the company had been unclear as to the what RFM’s standards were. The Walmart representatives asked that ASMI’s checklist for sustainability be posted to its website, he said.
“They needed more of that assurance of things we’ve taken for granted,” Fick said. “We will be able to demonstrate that everything they need to demonstrate sustainability is there.”
Bell and Fick said that after the talks this week, they feel optimistic that Walmart will continue stocking Alaska salmon.
“I get the sense that they’re pretty confident there will be a resolution to this that will make everyone happy,” Fick said.
On Wednesday, company executives toured the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, Alaska Glacier Seafoods and Douglas Island Pink and Chum, among other locations. They also spoke with Alaska fishermen and fishery managers, Bell said.
Bell said the state doesn’t know exactly when Walmart will make a decision on whether to continue purchasing Alaska salmon. However, she said both sides are eager to come to an agreement as soon as possible.
“Given the nature of the discussion, we will have a resolution very soon,” she said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.