Monday, July 22, 2013

Does The Label Make The Fish?

Today this article was published on how Alaskan Salmon is not sustainable enough for Wal-Mart stores or the US National Park Service's food vendors.  That's right, Alaskan Salmon, the sustainable fishery whose conservation efforts pre-date just about all "sustainable labels" has been deemed not 'green' enough for the major chain to carry.  The reason?  The fishery does not carry the specific eco-label that Wal-Mart and the Park Service demand.  Wal-Mart stores and the Park Service require that all of their seafood carry the MSC label or be evaluated positively by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Recently Alaska's seafood industry opted out of carrying the endorsements due to the costs and the belief that the Alaskan brand could stand on its own.  I would agree that the Alaskan brand is a solid one and has been representing sustainable seafood practices for years.  Alaska is the only state to have explicit seafood conservation language in its constitution.

So what is really happening here?  Is Alaskan salmon sustainable?  Should the fishery be bullied into carrying labels other than the Alaskan Seafood brand?  Yes, the wild Alaskan salmon fishery is still sustainable, and no, they should not feel any pressure to carry any brand other than their own.  I commend what Wal-Mart and the Park Service is trying to accomplish.  Providing seafood that comes from sustainably accredited sources is very important and a noble cause.  If more operations were like-minded, I believe that more fisheries would increase their efforts to become sustainable.  However, a label does not a sustainable fishery make.  The information is out there and it is free.  You can visit the website provided by NOAA, FishWatch, which does not require the fisheries to provide money for their assessment.  NOAA gathers information based on data, not dollars.  If Wal-Mart thinks that customers will only buy based on a label, they are undermining the intelligence of their customers.  I believe in providing information, not labels.  Everyone wants to make it easier, put a green sticker on it and its good.  Fisheries don't work that way.  Labels become outdated rather quickly.  Due to great efforts, species that were once in trouble are now proliferating, but if their labels aren't up to date then they can't get sold.  Ocean conservation and proper management is an intricate and difficult process, one that can not be dumbed down to a few colors.  Shopping at respectable markets that specialize in seafood may be the answer for customers looking to get the facts and not just a story, but the whole story.  I believe in procuring seafood from fisheries that practice responsible harvesting.  Whether or not they bought the label is not as important as whether or not they are sustainable.      

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