Q&A: Brian Perkins, MSC regional director of the Americas
With the appointment of Brian Perkins as its new regional director of the Americas region in early January, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) filled a key position that was vacant for more than a year. With Perkins’ experience in the commercial fish and seafood industries, a greater connection could be forged between those groups and the London-based organization.
MSC Americas faces several challenges, including an ever-increasing array of sustainable seafood certification schemes — and is in a transition period. The certification of sustainable seafood got more complicated once Alaska salmon processors opted to abandon the MSC program for the Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) scheme around two years ago.
Perkins’ assignment is part of an internal restructuring of MSC’s Americas region, aimed to focus more deeply on specific countries. Perkins will oversee program directors and their teams in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Geoff Bolan in Seattle was recently appointed program director-USA, while Jay Lugar, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been named program director-Canada. MSC plans to recruit for the program director-Latin America position this year.
SeafoodSource recently caught up with the former commercial fisherman and international seafood trade show executive to discuss his new position and how MSC will address the challenges facing the organization.
Blank: Congratulations on the new position! What has it been like so far?
Perkins: It has been great. In week one, I worked from my home in Portland, Maine, doing background reading and phone calls with key team members. Week two, I was in Europe and had the opportunity to participate in MSC’s quarterly meeting and meet with key members. This week, I’m in Seattle, Wash. It’s a great opportunity to figure out where we are and where we want to go. I’m interested in engaging with the industry and stakeholders. I’m excited about the team in the U.S. and Canada. It is a great opportunity to really move the ball down the field.
How has MSC grown in recent years and what are your plans for progressing the organization further?
MSC has got some great growth. Fifty-three percent of the fisheries in the United States are engaged in the program and 62 percent of fisheries in Canada are engaged. We just finished a review of our outreach program to universities and colleges; 11 universities are certified. It is an opportunity to get our message out to potential future seafood buyers. We operate with a five-year strategic plan that goes through 2017. At Seafood Expo North America, we will have an update of what the programs are.
How will MSC improve engagement with Alaska seafood suppliers, given that major Alaska salmon processors withdrew their support of MSC certification in favor of RFM?
We are very interested in working with all of the Alaska fisheries in whatever capacity we can. I have had a few meetings this week in Seattle. The response from the industry in terms of my appointment and the outreach have been incredible: They view it as an opportunity to re-engage. I have a reputation for being a good listener. It gives me the opportunity to re-engage folks and figure out if there is a way to move forward. The MSC label represents the most rigorous and robust assessment and scientifically based assessment. The MSC has set the gold standard for assessment and certification.
What do you think of the opposition by Greenpeace to fishing Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea Canyons? Isn’t the fishery certifed sustainable?
I’m confused as to why Greenpeace is poking at this issue. Around 10 percent of world fisheries are certified, which leaves 90 percent of fisheries that may need improvement. Greenpace would be better served to check out those fisheries. The [Alaska pollock] fishery is MSC-certified and has been for a long while. It has very high scores and is going through re-assessment. We encourage any organization to share the scientific data they have, but none of the organizations cited have participated in the certification process. It is not our responsibility to defend the fishery, but is our duty to share information about how robust and rigorous that assessment process is and what it really means in terms of a fishery being certified. The pollock fishery is one of the best-managed fisheries in the country and the world, in terms of its track record and in terms of tracking scientific data and responding to scientific data.
What is MSC doing to improve harmonization of certification standards internationally?
Clearing up confusion in the marketplace is a great goal. There will continue to be multiple sustainability programs. We will harmonize when we can. If we can’t, it’s our job to help people understand the difference between the various sustainability programs.
Will you be working in Washington, D.C., full time now, or will you be keeping a home in Maine?
My office is going to be in D.C. for the next six months. I am splitting time between D.C. and Seattle and visiting stakeholders. I’m not going to move out of Maine. Portland is home — at least on the weekends.