Alaska salmon is something of a phenomenon: these iconic American fish, belonging to the genus Oncorhynchus, are highly prized by consumers in many countries throughout the world.
As popular as these fish are in the marketplace, there has been significant toing and froing with regards to Alaska salmon’s sustainability accreditation in recent years. It all began in 2012 when eight major players in Alaska’s fishing industry — together accounting for more than 70% of the state’s salmon harvest — said they were no longer going to seek certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) third-party certification organisation, saying that it had become too costly. They also questioned the robustness of the programme.
At the same time, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) began pushing forward with a new programme, not associated with the MSC, called the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) based Global Trust Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification scheme. While a small group of processors and fishermen continued to pursue MSC certification for Alaska salmon, the majority opted out and backed the alternative RFM plan.
The decision to move away from the MSC programme three years ago sparked a lot of uncertainty in many marketplaces as some major retailers and processors were at the time insisting upon MSC certification.
After careful consideration, these companies chose to accept RFM thanks to their satisfaction with the state of the fisheries. They also recognised that different markets have different preferences for certification and that it was more important to offer choice to their customers.
In April 2015, several Alaska salmon processors decided to rejoin the MSC programme. While the reasons for this turnaround have not been disclosed, it’s widely believed it may be partly influenced by the unusually large numbers of wild salmon forecast to enter Alaska’s rivers this season on top of an abundance of frozen and canned fish from last season. At the same time, the US dollar has strengthened, making American products relatively more expensive to foreign buyers.
Nevertheless, moving forward, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association (PSPA) and the Alaska Salmon Processors Association (ASPA) recently agreed to transfer the MSC sustainability certificate for Alaska salmon from ASPA to PSPA. This move will make the certificate available to all interested Alaska salmon producing companies beginning in 2016.
Both ASPA and PSPA concurred that the transfer was in the best interests of the industry and would resolve the need for two MSC client groups to represent the same fishery. This agreement also ensures that all Alaska salmon producers will have the choice to offer certified sustainable salmon from both MSC and Alaska’s RFM sustainability programme to the global market.
It is important to highlight that, throughout all the complicated wrangling, the sustainability of Alaska’s fisheries was never called into question and that the science-based, robust management of the salmon fisheries remained consistent.
Since joining the United States in 1959, Alaska has been mandated to manage its natural resources to abundant, sustainable levels and it is the only US state that has conservation laws written into its Constitution. As such, the sustainability of Alaska salmon is fundamental to the fabric of the state’s society.
Of course, the best news is consumers everywhere will continue to have full access to wild Alaska salmon, one of the world’s most sustainable seafoods.