ASMI defends China salmon processing after U.K. flap

Soon after a Daily Mail article detailed a Tesco customer’s concerns about Alaska salmon processed in China, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute jumped to the defense of the practice.

According to the article, the Chinese processing flap started when a Tesco customer asked on the retailer’s Facebook page, “Why do my 'Tesco Wild Alaskan Salmon Fillets' say 'Produce of China' on them?”

“The salmon is fished for in Alaskan waters, but is shipped to China for cutting and packing. Therefore, we have to legally display the origin on pack where the last significant process took place,” Tesco responded.

Then, the Daily Mail got involved, as well as a sustainable seafood group.

It could take 22,000 miles for Alaska salmon to reach British consumers’ plates, the Daily Mail reporter wrote. Once frozen, the salmon is shipped via Hong Kong through the Gulf of Thailand, Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Suez Canal, Mediterranean Sea, English Channel and North Sea to the Netherlands. The final leg of the journey involves a trip to Felixstowe, Immingham or Southampton in the U.K., according to the newspaper.

"Common sense says we should be buying salmon locally,” said Ruth Westcott, coordinator of Sustainable Fish Cities at Sustain, “the alliance for better food and farming,” in a statement. “Consumers can avoid buying salmon that has been shipped across the world simply by choosing oily fish species caught closer to home; mackerel from the U.K.; herring, sardines from Cornwall and lots of MSC-certified fish."

However, it is simply not possible to process all the wild salmon in Alaska, Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for ASMI, told SeafoodSource. “During the short summer season, which is eight to 12 weeks, upwards of 300 tons of fish are caught. Alaska has a limited workforce, especially in the areas these fish are being harvested. It makes sense to send them somewhere to a facility that can process them quickly and efficiently, and then be able to turn it around and ship to the global market. China is definitely set up to do that.”

Woodrow said ASMI has not heard similar concerns from U.S. customers.

“Alaska salmon is not the only product that gets sent elsewhere [for processing]. I don’t know why it is of concern for U.K. consumers,” Woodrow said.

Years ago, salmon was plentiful in the waters around the U.K., according to Westcott, but recently, stocks have dwindled.

“It is a shame we need to look as far away as Alaska for salmon; but, until U.K. salmon farms and wild stocks improve, this is the best choice for consumers’ health and sustainability."

However, with the passage of Brexit, “We have an opportunity to manage our natural resources better, with a more long-term approach and sustainability as a number one priority. Alaska does this, which is why fish is a huge domestic industry and [its] salmon is exported across the world,” she said.


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