Alaska, Iceland bond over sustainable fisheries
It may be surprising that Alaska and Iceland share a lot in common. But their relationship goes back a ways, to the days when former Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel and Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the fifth and current president of Iceland, would visit legislators together on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday at the European Seafood Exposition, Alaska and Iceland came together again — this time to promote their commitment to sustainable fisheries. At a luncheon titled “The Evolution of Sustainability and the Role of Choice” and hosted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Iceland Responsible Fisheries, President Grímsson, the luncheon’s featured speaker, talked about the lack of information and science on the ocean and importance of the sustainable seafood movement, which is still evolving.
“The oceans must always be given the benefit of the doubt, or we risk destroying them for future generations,” said President Grímsson.
President Grímsson credited Iceland’s commitment to sustainable fisheries to the success, and even survival, of Iceland, which was inaugurated in 1944. “Without the creation of sustainable fisheries or the extension of Iceland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the Republic would not have survived,” he said. “And it’s one of the main reasons why Iceland came out of the banking crisis of 2008.”
Another thing that Alaska and Iceland share in common is their reluctance to commit to one sustainable seafood scheme. Both have pursued certification with programs based on the Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. And Alaska’s salmon fishery shook up the sustainable seafood world when it backed away from the Marine Stewardship Council early this year. (However, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association recently announced that it will serve as the client for Alaska’a salmon fishery once it’s up for MSC re-certification in the fall.)
“Unfortunately, we’ve become embroiled in a debate about who defines sustainable seafood,” said Cora Campbell, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, who along with President Grímsson addressed the luncheon. “We can’t tolerate a situation where one entity has sole control over who can sell seafood to the industry and who cannot.”
Alaska’s fisheries should be considered sustainable “regardless of whether it subscribes to any sustainable seafood scheme,” added Campbell, explaining that sustainable fishing was written into Alaska’s constitution when it was ratified in 1956.