Seafood group pushes sustainable labeling

Certification may help boost prices, expand Alaska brand in Europe

Posted: Monday, November 30, 2009

To boost Alaska seafood market prices and expand the Alaska brand in Europe, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is in discussions with a trade group that certifies and labels sustainable seafood.

Klas Stolpe/ Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe/ Juneau Empire

The England-based Marine Stewardship Council certifies sustainable fisheries and labels sustainable seafood around the world.

"The MSC certification is really a market tool. ... It's just a third-party endorsement," said ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta. "As marketers, we want to keep our value up. If this industry and some of our customers see value in keeping this going so that we can sell our products for a better price in Europe then, by all means, we do it as long as it gets paid for."

ASMI wants its participation in the Marine Stewardship Council program to be "cost-neutral" - paid for by those who actually use the program. Although ASMI is funded by the entire Alaska seafood industry, not all of it will benefit directly from salmon certification. It's one of several conditions ASMI is demanding before becoming a council client. ASMI is also requiring the "Alaska Origin" certification is not lost in European labeling.

"We had a concern that it might be replaced by plain old MSC salmon," Riutta said. "We don't want the Alaska brand diluted with, say, Russian certified salmon or just any-old-place ... If you pick up a box of MSC salmon, we want to see Alaska on there someplace if it came from Alaska."

Riutta also said ASMI wants the council to clarify that the role of its certifier is to verify fisheries are being managed sustainably, rather than tell fisheries managers what to do.

"Our basic position, and this hasn't changed in a number of years, is that all Alaska seafood is harvested in a sustained yield matter, both state and federal," Riutta said. "We follow all the guidelines of the Food and Agriculture Organization code of conduct for sustainable fisheries. Our fisheries' sustainability is not in question, the question that some places ask is they need an independent party to come in and verify that what we're saying is what we're doing, particularly in Europe where they don't trust the government."

ASMI is waiting to hear from the council about what it's doing to reduce the overhead involved in maintaining the current system, if stakeholders will have a say in changes to the council's salmon standards, and if its certifier follows a standard practice that won't be affected by his or her personal politics.

A representative from MSC will attend ASMI committee meeting in Seattle this week, where a final decision is expected.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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