By James Wright, SeaFood Business senior editor
Published on 22 January, 2012
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) late last week issued a rebuttal to its critics in light of the Alaska salmon industry’s intention to withdraw from the world’s most recognizable sustainable fishery certification program.
The remarks were directed mainly at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), which has provided the industry with an alternative certification scheme that it claims to be equivalent to the MSC and should fulfill the certification requirements of seafood buyers.
After eight major Alaska salmon processors, represented by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) as the fishery’s client, withdrew their support for MSC, Kerry Coughlin, MSC Americas regional director, expressed “regret” that Alaska’s salmon fishery, one of the largest certified fisheries in the world, would not seek recertification. AFDF Executive Director James Browning said in a letter that industry support for MSC certification had “changed substantially” since 2010.
Coughlin said she hoped the fishery would re-enter assessment before the certification expires on 29 October. But MSC took its response a step further on Friday, adding that the certification scheme that the industry now prefers is not equivalent to the MSC program, nor is it free.
Last year, ASMI announced the launch of a responsible fishery management certification scheme that is certified by Ireland-based Global Trust Certification, which would assess fisheries against a standard based on the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta previously stated that, speaking on behalf of Alaska salmon customers, “not everyone requires certification because they already know about Alaska’s 50-plus years of leadership and commitment to sustainability.”
However, MSC says the program was developed “without broad consultation and stakeholder engagement,” which shows a “lack of transparency.”
“The developer (Global Trust) is under contract to ASMI and does the assessment of fisheries ASMI submits,” said MSC’s written statement. “This is not a third-party system.”
MSC also argues that the competing certification program does not certify the sustainability of the fishery and stock and that the FAO standard that it references does not actually exist.
“The United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) do not have a standard and do not certify fisheries. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries was developed by FAO in 1995, and although it is not a certification standard its content has been used to develop the ASMI scheme,” the group stated. “The MSC is the only fishery ecolabeling program that is fully consistent with FAO and the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL) international guidelines.”
As pertaining to the cost of the respective programs, MSC reaffirmed its position that it receives no money from the certification process of fisheries against its standard. In addition to philanthropic support, MSC receives operating support from a 0.5 percent royalty on the wholesale value of any consumer-facing products that carry the MSC ecolabel, a fee the group considers modest.
The FAO-based certification scheme that is assessed by Global Trust is not free, says MSC, which estimated that the cost of certification could total USD 3.5 million. ASMI has stated that Alaska salmon companies could use the certification claims without paying a royalty.
While it appears that Alaska salmon will not seek recertification from MSC, there are several other Alaska fisheries that are still MSC-certified, including Alaska pollock. Jim Gilmore, public affairs director for the Seattle-based At Sea Processors Association, which serves as the MSC client for the Alaska pollock fishery, told SeafoodSource last week that the “MSC just doesn’t seem to get it, that it is the fisheries that make the program work.
“Reassessment is an expensive, time consuming and lengthy process, so Alaska salmon producers had to decide now whether continued MSC participation made sense or not,” Gilmore said.
MSC certification of salmon was first achieved in 2000.