Seafood certification changes planned, task force created
JUNEAU — The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute announced plans to amend its “Responsible Fisheries Management” certification program and create a taskforce on the issue after a daylong closed board meeting April 23.
The action is a direct response to the January announcement by Walmart that it would continue buying Alaska wild salmon certified as sustainable under the institute, or ASMI’s, fisheries management certification instead of the Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabel.
“It was illuminated with our interaction with the Walmart folks. We made promises to them that we’d improve our sustainability, governance and structure. At this meeting we did that,” said Kevin Adams, ASMI board chairman, following its unanimous approval of a $250,000 budget for the effort.
Adams, a Kodiak gillnetter, was unanimously re-elected to a second term at the board’s open meeting in Juneau April 24. Likewise, Mark Palmer, president and CEO of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, will continue as vice chairman.
Alaska Department of Commerce officials, other state officials, and ASMI staff visited Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters last year to convince the giant discount retailer that the certification program, or RFM is as legitimate as the MSC’s blue label.
Walmart has never published a clear set of seafood sustainability requirements. After the overwhelming majority of Alaska’s wild salmon processors rejected the MSC ecolabel in favor of the RFM certification, Walmart bowed to the market reality.
The board spent little time discussing the RFM review project at its public session, but John Garner, the board member from Trident Seafoods who offered the motion, said it is “intended to take steps to provide a very credible third party certification.”
Garner moved to “reaffirm” ASMI’s commitment to the RFM certification, and to seek “best in class” international audit firms to become reviewers in the ongoing program.
Since ASMI’s business-to-business RFM certification was established in 2011 it has been under attack from the competing Marine Stewardship Council, the dominant voice in the label-focused approach to seafood sustainability guarantees in Great Britain, Germany and northern Europe.
The MSC label has struggled to gain consumer acceptance in the U.S. market and most of the world.
World sales of Alaska wild salmon indicate it has generally withstood the attacks and Adams described the new project as choice rather than a reaction.
“There was no challenge. It is covering the ground, looking over our strategic plan on this, looking over the ground we’ve covered and where are we right now and how much do we have to improve to go farther,” Adams said.
The task force, including board, industry and technical experts “will further the acceptance and use of RFM certification by Alaska’s seafood customers and the Alaska seafood industry, as well as consider new client relationships with RFM certifying bodies,” the board said in a statement published April 25.
The project will “provide further well-defined governance and clarity addressing ownership and fishery client ship,” it continued. The MSC, and other environmental groups, have complained that the RFM program, established and funded by ASMI, is effectively self-certification and lacks credibility.
Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].