By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on Sunday, February 05 2012
Some fisheries expect to benefit from the recent decision by eight major Alaska salmon processors to phase out funding for Marine Stewardship Council certification by late October, when its current certificate expires.
The Metlakatla Indian Community Fishery — which is located in the tribal waters surrounding the Annette Islands in Southeast Alaska — is just one fishery that expects to garner more business from overseas buyers seeking only MSC-certified salmon.
The fallout from the Alaska salmon industry’s decision has already begun — Japanese retailer Aeon Topvalu last week said it is looking at switching its source of salmon to MSC-certified fisheries in other countries.
“I think it would bring more business to us. I hope so,” said Dustin Winter, fisheries manager for the Metlakatla Indian Community Fishery.
The fishery earned MSC certification in June 2011, becoming the first wholly native-owned and -operated fishery to do so. The fishery — which is managed by the Metlakatla Tribal Council in conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs — received its MSC certification separate from the Alaska salmon industry.
And it has benefitted greatly from the distinction. “It has not hindered us at all; it has only helped us. It has given our packing company the ability to expand in Europe,” said Winter.
“MSC holds a lot of weight for the sustainability of the product, and it can be tracked from the actual boat to the end user. It has made a big difference that way and price-wise,” added Freeman McGilton, general manager of the fishery’s packing house, Annette Island Packing Co.
The fishery produces between 4.5 million and 5.5 million pounds of seafood annually and ships the majority to Europe via Interocean Seafoods Co. of Seattle. Smaller amounts of its production — which includes sea cucumber and gooey duck — is sold in China.
While the fishery cannot keep up with its current overseas demand for MSC-certified salmon, that may change in the near future. The fishery’s fleet has “increased tremendously” from 24 vessels to 84 in 2011. More boats will likely be added in 2012.
Annette Island Packing Co.is also in the midst of a major expansion, adding freezers and processing equipment to increase production of portions and other value-added salmon products.