Friday, February 3, 2012

Wild Alaskan Salmon and the MSC issue

Recently Wild Alaskan Salmon Fisheries opted out of it's renewal of the MSC brand.  What this means is that Wild Alaskan salmon will no longer carry that little blue seal of approval from the MSC, the same blue seal that assures customers that the fish they are buying is considered sustainable.  Questions arose immediately after the news was released and everyone wants to know why this happened and what it means for the fishery and the customer.

The Alaskan fishery spokesmen cited the costs and complications of the renewal as reasons for backing out of the program.  They also noted that the fishery has 50 years of proper management experience and finds that the fishery brand can stand alone as it's own confirmation of sustainable practice.  I do not think this move makes the MSC brand obsolete.  Some purveyors, notably a major seafood company in Japan, have threatened to pull Alaskan salmon from their shelves in response to the missing MSC label.  They cautioned that they would sell only MSC certified fish and that they did not want to confuse their customers with many different labels.  Can the Alaskan fishery police themselves and meet the environmental and customer expectations of a sustainable fishery?  History is on their side.

I believe people will still search out wild Alaskan salmon and feel good when they buy it.  The brand has presented itself as the par excellence of well managed fisheries for many years and has now come to terms with the important fact that as customers become more knowledgeable about quality and responsibly harvested products the need for third party labels is not required for established brands.  As long as the fishery keeps to their ideals of being great stewards of their waters and environments, they should not feel forced to acquire a third party approval.  A MSC brand verifies a sustainably managed fishery but it does not make a fishery sustainable.  A fishery is made sustainable by its practices, policies, and efforts.  If Alaska intends to keep its wild stocks at sustainable levels and its waters healthy then it will do so because of a shared and implemented philosophy and not because of a label.

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