Pollock at Center of Sustainability Storm


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
December 9, 2008

The Marine Stewardship Council is taking offense to the Greenpeace attacks against Alaska’s pollock industry — as it should. The London nonprofit determined just three years ago that the fishery was sustainable and well managed and awarded it with the coveted eco-label. As the pollock quota appears headed for a second straight year of cuts, it became time to defend management practices despite the ominous-looking numbers.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which will determine the 2009 quota this week in Anchorage, Alaska, says pollock stocks are strong but in a down cycle. After it cut this year’s quota by 28 percent to 1 million metric tons, government scientists last month recommended another quota reduction for 2009 to about 815,000 tons.

Phil Kline, senior Oceans campaigner for Greenpeace and a California commercial fisherman of nearly three decades, told me last week the quota should be about half that.

“The council is hanging its hat on the 2006 year class as fish that will be harvested in the next couple of years. It’s a very risky way to prosecute a fishery,” says Kline. “We disagree with this MSC certification. The way we prosecute the fishery has shown through history that it’s not sustainable.”

Greenpeace is devoting a lot of time to seafood lately. Just yesterday the group released version 2.0 of its retailer report card, “Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores are Emptying the Seas.” The original report, released in June, was largely ignored by the retailers it ranked (and failed) and by the media as well. Greenpeace likely hopes that passing four retailers — barely — will earn more press for its sustainable seafood campaign.

There are times to ignore Greenpeace’s tactics, just as there are times to take the group on and rebut its claims and antics.

So on Monday MSC denounced a TV ad that Greenpeace aired in Seattle and Alaska claiming commercial pollock fishing is devastating the resource and the ecosystem. MSC can’t afford to be wrong — or even appear to be — about the fisheries it certifies. This is not Sweden’s Lake Hjälmaren pikeperch gillnet fishery we’re talking about — it’s Alaska pollock, the largest whitefish resource in the world.

MSC clearly needs to protect the integrity and value of its eco-label to keep the sustainability movement moving forward. Today it’s Alaska pollock. Tomorrow?

Thank you,
James Wright
Assistant Editor
SeaFood Business

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