Resource Development Council

Alaska seafood eco-labeling battle draws to an end

By Kati Capozzi

For the time being, it appears as though the seafood eco-labeling battle has been settled.

In 2012, Alaska salmon producers made the decision to withdraw from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which many believed had gone wayward from a sustainable fishery certification program to a monopolistic entity that sought control of the eco-labeling market. Alaska seafood industry members as well as officials from the State of Alaska, including then Governor Sean Parnell, argued that Alaska’s fisheries were some of the best-managed fisheries in the world and served as a global model for sustainability.

The decision to withdraw was based around the concern that MSC’s ever-changing and questionable criteria for being ‘sustainable’ would ultimately tarnish the Alaska brand of salmon while being grouped in with salmon from other regions of the world, primarily Russia, and labeled as equal under the MSC. The ‘pay-to-play’ labeling was damaging to the Alaska seafood industry and left unknowing conscious consumers in the dark. MSC certification was in many cases the only eco-label that large retailers would consider purchasing, most notably Wal-Mart, Sodexo, and even the National Park Service.

The departure of Alaska salmon and other Alaska fisheries from the privately funded MSC eventually forced the seafood market, domestically and globally, to revaluate their seafood sustainability program criteria. Buyers and consumers alike knew the quality of Alaska seafood but were being denied access to it based off the lack of an MSC label. Retailers began reviewing alternate sustainability programs that were “equivalent” to MSC certifications.

Domestically, Alaska seafood adopted its own, independent sustainability certification called “Responsible Fisheries Management.” In Europe, where the MSC label is highly regarded, the Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative was launched in an effort to create a benchmark for sustainability guidelines for seafood. These significant eco-label advancements ultimately dismantled the threat of an international monopoly over suitability certifications.

With a more level playing field, Alaska salmon and many other Alaska fisheries are choosing to once again participate in the MSC. You may ask, why rejoin? First, it allows the Alaska brand to compete alongside other MSC certified seafood yet still retain its identity as a global leader in sustainability management. Secondly, it delivers Alaska seafood in the hands of consumers who rely on and continue to prefer MSC certification.

In the end, retailers and consumers are left with more options and Alaska seafood continues to be purchased and consumed worldwide.

Return to newsletter headlines