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Alaskan Salmon Industry to Withdraw from Marine Stewardship Council Certification Program

Eight large Alaska salmon processors announced this past week that, after over a decade of membership, they will allow their Marine Stewardship Council certificates to run out later in 2012. Reportedly, these processors are Alaska General Seafoods, E & E Foods, Icicle Seafoods, Kwikpak Fisheries, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, and Trident Seafoods. These companies comprise over seventy percent of Alaska salmon processing.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was founded in 1997 as a non-profit organization in order to promote sustainable fishing practices. MSC sets standards by which fisheries in both developed and developing countries do business, including not overfishing, operating in a responsible manner, and limiting ecosystem impact. Certification assessment of a fishery comes through an independent assessor with which the fishery contracts; the assessor determines whether the fishery has met MSC standards and advises whether to certify it. MSC's blue eco-label, which certified fisheries are authorized to use on their products, is globally recognized, and lets conscientious consumers know that the seafood they are buying has a traceable chain of custody at every point of transfer from catch to table, and thus is a marketing tool used to promote and support sustainably run fisheries. The certifications are good for five years, and the fisheries named above are certified to use the eco-label through October 29, 2012.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) represents Alaska salmon fisheries in MSC certification. Reportedly, in an AFDF statement, one of the reasons given for why the Alaska salmon fisheries are exiting the program is, "it is time to redirect their resources toward a broader marketing message," and "to resolve the issue and quell speculation and confusion in the salmon market." Apparently, there is some question in the industry as to whether MSC certification standards are consistently applied among fisheries, perhaps being too lax in some areas and certifying without enough data, and too stringent in others, and that the program is becoming more and more complex. This announcement comes soon after the last five-year certification process was begun this past December, during which time the assessor found nineteen points for the salmon fisheries to address before certification, mainly involving possible issues with hatchery stock commingling with other salmon.

MSC has expressed regret at the exit of the important Alaska salmon fishery, and hopes that they will volunteer to be certified for the MSC eco-label in the future. MSC will continue working with other fisheries, promoting sustainable fishing practices and management, while Alaska fisheries maintain that they have always operated in a sustainable way, which, they point out, past MSC certification has confirmed.

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