According to Atuna yesterday (25 September 2013) the future of MSC certified tuna and other wild seafood in the American market could very well rest on the purchasing decision Wal-Mart makes with respect to Alaskan Salmon.
This article took me by surprise since I just a few months Walmart is on the record that it is only interested in sourcing MSC certified Wild Salmon. I refer to the Intrafish article of 28 June 2013 (Walmart tells suppliers only MSC-certified wild salmon is OK) in which the contents of a letter from Walmart Senior seafood buyer Catherine Johnson to the Alaskan wild salmon suppliers indicate unequivocally ruling out Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification as not conforming with its sustainable seafood purchasing policy for Alaskan Wild Salmon. Johnson reminded the Alaskan wild salmon suppliers that to conform with the purchasing policy it must be certified sustainable according to the:
“Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) [Fisheries] Standard or, if not certified, actively working towards certification. This latter scenario includes fisheries in public fishery improvement projects (FIPs)… [N]o other standards will be accepted as equivalent until such time as we announce our decision.”
The letter continued:
“Sources of MSC certified fisheries are currently available from Alska, British Columbia, and Russia. If you are not already sourcing from an MSC certified fishery, please explore these options. Since these areas also have fisheries that are not MSC certified, it is critical you buy from companies of producers with MSC Chain of Custody [certification].”
According to intrafish this letter pretty much precludes the use of ASMI’s RFM programme as an equivalent to MSC in the Market, notwithstanding the endorsement of the RFM programme by Alaskan wild salmon producers who abandoned the MSC Fisheries Standard in 2012. Even though the Alskan Salmon Industry dropped MSC in favour of the the ASMI RFM alternative program (developed by Global Trust) , the Alaskan salmon industry hoped Wal-Mart would recognize other certifications.
Alaskan Senator, Mark Begich has been critical of Wal-Mart over certification and vociferous about MSC’s increasing cost for logo fees and its fisheries standard that is beset with inconsistencies.
According to Begich, all US fisheries should be recognised as sustainable without the need of a third-party certification. In fact, Begich has advocated the establishment of US sustainability standard, where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can verify the sustainability of US seafood. President of the National Fisheries Institute, John Connelly seconds this:
“Congress should require NOAA to develop an integrated communications strategy that describes in lay terms how the government manages our nation’s fisheries resources.”
Changes to General Services Administration Seafood purchasing policy
This week purchasing policy changes elsewhere have not only placed the spotlight on Wal-Mart’s purchasing policy, they have resulted in an inference that the policy is un-American. According to Atuna:
“This week saw the US General Services Administration update its guidelines and decide to remove the need of a third-party certification for purchasing food under government contracts. The previous recommendation in the guidelines was that any seafood purchased by the US market should always have the MSC certification. The change will allow for the US to purchase seafood for the feds, like the Department of Defense and National Parks without an eco-label to state that the fish was caught and processed sustainably. This could have a substantial impact on the future of MSC certified tuna and other wild seafood in the American market.“
The dropping the its guidelines surrounding the purchase of MSC seafood by the General Services Administration, poses the question of the nation’s largest retailer whether it will go back on its commitment and allow the purchase of Alaskan salmon not certified by MSC.
US Senator, Lisa Murdowski, representing Alaska stressed that the state will continue with efforts to eradicate the “pay to play” system that currently exists. A Wal-Mart senior director of sustainability said that the company will be reviewing its policy and will come to a quick decision.
If this giant global retailer announces plans to drop its commitment to the MSC certification and continue to sell Alaskan salmon, this could possibly have major repercussions for MSC’s image in the US, and the seafood products that carry its logo.
Atuna argues that an about turn by Wal-Mart could also affect the future development of MSC tuna, fresh, frozen or canned in the US market. The country’s two albacore tuna fisheries are both MSC certified, and the US Big three tuna brands had recently committed, through the ISSF, to switch their tuna to MSC, but 2017 at the very latest.
Atuna presents a conundrum:
“If Wal-Mart, as the largest retailer in the US, would make the decision to drop its pledge to only sell domestic seafood that is MSC certified, concerns will also be prompted surrounding the use of domestically caught sustainable MSC albacore tuna. If it decides to market sustainable seafood without third-party certification, those trying to stop the expansion of the MSC logo within the American market will gain more leverage, and likely erode the advantages of those who hold the certification.”
As I see it – this is no longer just a sustainable seafood sourcing policy, it stopped being merely this as soon Alaskan politicians got involved and played the ‘American’ card… without actually saying it.
I am looking forward to seeing how Wal-Mart deals with this hospital pass. When it comes to customers, perception is everything…
Wal-Mart has to ask themselves the hard question:
“Do we support locally (American) sourced sustainable products; or do we support demonstrably sustainable products?”
- Sodexo says it will consider alternatives to MSC (thecordovatimes.com)
- Alaska officials lobby Wal-Mart on salmon-critical move (reuters.com)
- Alaska Fishermen to U.S. Senate: “Hold Walmart Accountable for Anti-American Seafood Policies!” (prnewswire.com)
- Senate hearing focuses on sustainability certification (thecordovatimes.com)
- Legislation addresses seafood sustainability issues (thecordovatimes.com)
- Alaska Fishermen Protest Wal-Mart Decision (abcnews.go.com)
- WWF, MSC owe explanation, apology to Alaska fishermen (juneauempire.com)
- Fisherman Picket Anchorage Walmart Before Big Meeting (alaskapublic.org)
- Alaskans To Walmart: “Stop Swimming Against The Tide On Alaska Salmon” (sys-con.com)
- Walmart’s Salmon Policy Leads Fishermen To Protest In Alaska (huffingtonpost.com)