A Snowy Valdez, Alaska Harbor Photo: Alan SorumProducers of wild Alaskan seafood understand how important it is for our fisheries to be managed on a sustainable basis. Methods employed to ensure wild seafood sustainability include use of enforceable catch limits, improving catch efficiency, limiting fishing efforts and implementation of quota share programs.

Since many fisheries in the world do not strive to meet similar goals, Alaska is keen to alert consumers about the sustained yield practices used in the state. One way to achieve this goal is to use an independent, third party to certify seafood in Alaska is being harvested on a sustainable basis. Several Alaska fisheries, like those directed at the five species of Pacific salmon are certified as sustainable by a group known as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and bear an ecolabel that can easily be recognized by seafood consumers.

World Wildlife Fund Seafood Ecolabel Program Study

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned Accenture Development Partnerships to make an independent assessment of seafood sustainability certification programs. The study, Assessment Study of On-Pack, Wild-Capture Seafood Sustainability Certification Programmes and Seafood Ecolabels. Accenture, was recently released and looked at seven certification programs that use ecolabels targeted at seafood consumers.

Using criteria established by the World Wildlife Fund, Accenture assessed the fisheries management claims made by these ecolabeling schemes. Criteria addressed in the study included consideration of climate change, evaluation of supply chain facilities, impacts made to fish and ecosystems, social and ethical practices, and humane treatment of animals.

The executive summary of the report states, “None of the standards analysed are in complete compliance with the criteria identified and defined by WWF as necessary for credible ecolabels or certification programs. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the only ecolabel that is close enough to be considered compliant with these criteria.”

In a press release, WWF International Marine Program Director Miguel Jorge states, “The findings of this assessment reveal serious inadequacies in a number of ecolabels and cast doubt on their overall contribution to effective fisheries management and sustainability. While the assessment shows the MSC comes out best in class using the most rigorous programme out there, it is not perfect. Improvements are needed across the board to ensure all seafood ecolabels deliver on their promise.”

The WWF notes that MSC ranked highest in the study, meeting a score of just over 95 percent compliance for the assessment’s criteria requirements. The other programs, Naturland, Friend of the Sea, Krav, AIDCP, Mel-Japan and Southern Rocklobster, didn’t meet the goals of sustainable fishing as conceived by the WWF.

The Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council is based in London, United Kingdom and has a number of regional offices located throughout the world. This organization establishes standards for sustainable fishing and certification of world seafood markets. The group conducts outreach efforts to promote the marketing of sustainable fisheries among both consumers and fishermen.

Alaska seafood certified as sustainable by MSC include:

  • Alaska Salmon (5 species): Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka), Chum (Oncorhynchus keta), Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and Pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
  • Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Alaska (Pacific) Cod – Freezer Longline (Gadus macrocephalus)
  • Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)
  • Gulf of Alaska Pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)
  • North Pacific Halibut (Hippoglosus stenolepis)
  • North Pacific Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria)

Sustainable fisheries depend on the use of best management practices that reply on accountability, transparency, a full public process and third party certification. Alaska has long known that its economic future depends on protecting its seafood resources. Sustainability is written into Alaska law and commonly supported by the fishing industry. Use of an organization like the Marine Stewardship Council adds one more tool to the effort needed to protect our fisheries.

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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