Sustainability a Shared Responsibility
On Monday I attended the Alaska Seafood Forum on Sustainability in Anchorage hosted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). Alaska and its many fisheries are a prime example where third-party certification may not be needed to ensure buyers a product comes from a responsible, sustainable fishery.
The message from ASMI was clear: Alaska seafood is sustainable and buyers should look for the official Alaska Seafood logo to ensure they are buying a quality product. Since 1959, Alaska's constitution has mandated that "fish ... be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained-yield principle." In summary, careful stewardship of marine resources has been the hallmark of fishery management since Alaska became a state.
The marketing agency put on a full-court press with its message to a group of approximately 100 seafood buyers, marketers and journalists from around the world, including rolling out all new POS materials with the tagline "Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural & Sustainable."
"It's not a rush to 'Get Green' for Alaska fisheries. We're about responsible fisheries and sustainability," said Randy Rice, ASMI's technical director. "We won't be putting out a new eco-label. We do wish to educate on sustainability behind the Alaska Seafood logo."
Alaska is not abandoning the Marine Stewardship Council certification of the pollock and salmon fisheries. In a letter to MSC CEO Rupert Howes earlier this week, Alaska Department of Fish & Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd noted that his agency is the only fishery management agency serving as an MSC client, and requested further information about switching the agency's client status. Lloyd noted to Forum attendees the considerable amount of time and money that had been spent on MSC certifications to date.
While the Forum was about Alaska, attendees gained a clearer understanding of the challenges the world faces in terms of sustainable seafood and eco-labels. Some speakers noted that while third-party certification may bring benefits to retailers, the plethora of eco-labels on the market threatens to confuse not only buyers, but consumers who have little information beyond a logo.
Peter Hajipieris, director of sustainability and external affairs for Birds Eye Iglo in the U.K. and former director of sustainability and external affairs for retailer Tesco, noted that most developing countries can't aspire to meet a certification program's needs.
"The industry has to become directly involved in developing minimum sustainability criteria. Industry must change the 'if' mentality to 'how and when?'" said Grimur Valdimarsson, director of fish products and industry division with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
A comment from Hajipieris summed it up best: The global seafood industry "faces tremendous challenges in 10 to 20 years. We need a more global audience to articulate challenges. It's a shared responsibility."
As more and more industries learn that sustainability needs to be both upstream and downstream from their respective companies, the concept of shared responsibility will hopefully become much clearer.