State to investigate king crab labeling

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin's office said Wednesday it has asked the state's attorney general to investigate whether labeling on certain king crab products violates any laws.

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Some seafood advocates, however, lamented Wednesday that though the labeling is misleading, it doesn't appear to be illegal.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, asked the governor's office to investigate after news broke that a boat captain in the popular TV show "Deadliest Catch" agreed to have his vessel appear on the packaging of Russian crab sold at some Wal-Mart stores.

Critics say the endorsement gives the appearance that the crab is from Alaska and could mislead consumers into thinking they are buying a sustainably fished product.

Alaska seafood advocates say Russian crab is overfished, sometimes illegally caught or poached, and the industry is under-regulated.

Sig Hansen, captain of the Northwestern in "Deadliest Catch," issued a statement this week saying any box of crab that has his endorsement will specify whether it is Russian or American king crab.

"We believe that our decision to endorse king crab is beneficial to our fleet, not detrimental," Hansen's statement said.

"Unfortunately, questions have been raised about our loyalty to the Alaskan fishing fleet that two generations of our family have helped build. ... We believe so strongly in this endorsement that we have put our family name and the image of the Northwestern on the box."

Harris called the packaging "fraudulent marketing" and said Wal-Mart is demeaning the name, value and standing of Alaska's king crab.

Wal-Mart, which has marketed itself as a promoter of sustainable products, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The crab for sale in the fresh and frozen sections of Wal-Mart store in Juneau were labeled as a "product of Russia" or simply "king crab."

Arni Thomson, executive director of the Alaska Crab Coalition, said Hansen's endorsement doesn't appear to break any laws.

"The problem with this whole situation is I don't think there's any laws being broken, and that's the frustration," Thomson said. "It's not a mislabeling. It's misrepresentation. There's no law against it, but the fact of the matter is the crab is from Russia."

The product is packaged by Global Fishing, which declined to comment Wednesday. In September, the Russian government arrested Global's chief executive officer, Arkadi Gontmakher, a Bellevue, Wash., resident, and accused the company of a conspiracy to export illegally caught crab products to the United States, according to a report by The Seattle Times.

The governor's office criticized Hansen's endorsement and encouraged Wal-Mart to consider selling Alaska seafood.

"'Deadliest Catch,' being so popular, it's an excellent opportunity to promote Alaskan seafood. Instead of doing that, he's chosen to lend his name to a foreign product," said Cora Crome, Palin's fisheries policy adviser. "It's an attempt to use Alaska's reputation to promote a foreign product."

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