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Point of View: Let’s continue the partnership

Kerry Coughlin is regional director, Americas, for the Marine Stewardship Council
By Kerry Coughlin
March 05, 2012

I’ve been asked many times why eight of the 43 member companies for Marine Stewardship Council certification of Alaska salmon withdrew support nearly two months after a re-assessment had begun. I can’t speak for those companies or other companies in the group who may be interested in continuing MSC certification. What I can say is that MSC regrets the decision of the eight companies and hopes that our partnership with the Alaska salmon industry will continue.

Some of the early trade media coverage included terms such as “negative campaigning” and “mudslinging,” but the MSC takes great exception to such characterizations. These terms may spice up coverage, but they are inaccurate and have absolutely no basis.

The MSC has not spoken negatively about, initiated or participated in any campaign against Alaska, the salmon fishery, salmon companies, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), or the men and women in the Alaska fishing industry. We respect and value these partnerships and welcome participation by the initial client group or a new client to take Alaska salmon forward in the assessment for a third certification.

For many people who make their living harvesting, processing or selling Alaska salmon, MSC certification of the fishery has become an important asset, as buyers around the world acknowledge MSC as the global sustainability standard for ensuring and communicating about the sustainability of the seafood they source.

>Many buyers, conservation community members, scientists and others who have worked to help make the MSC a scientifically credible program with rigorous and truly independent fishery assessments share a common concern around the pullout of companies that process a majority of Alaska’s salmon. The concern is the corresponding promotion of a local industry-led program (ASMI) as equivalent to the MSC process.

MSC respects ASMI and the work it has done to promote Alaska seafood, and is a proponent of a mutually supportive relationship between our organizations. Our partners have asked, however, about the program ASMI developed and whether it is equivalent to MSC. It is not and we have provided factual information about the differences and corrected inaccuracies about cost and other comparisons. ASMI, an industry marketing arm, hired a company to develop a program and contracts with the same company to review fisheries that ASMI has designated. Executives with five of the eight companies that withdrew support for MSC certification make up a supermajority, five of seven seats, on the ASMI board.

The market concern about Alaska salmon is not about competition to MSC. It’s about portraying as equivalent a local scheme that does not have the same level of scientific rigor, independence, open process and diverse stakeholder engagement. This threatens the whole premise of credible certification and the investment our many partners have made in identifying, motivating and confirming sustainability of wild-capture fishing.

Buyer, NGO and other questions and concerns are genuine and understandable. Any views they have expressed are of their own volition.

While not in a fight with anyone, there are things the MSC is expected by our many partners to fight for. That is protecting the investment and commitment our partners throughout the fishing industry and supply chain have made in building a program that has a meaningful impact. We will fight on behalf of fisheries that have been successfully assessed against the MSC standard by ensuring that standard means something.

The Alaska salmon fishery has been a valued partner in the MSC program for more than a decade. The people who work in the Alaska salmon industry deserve to maintain the market benefit and prestige MSC certification brings, and they deserve to showcase to the world their long-standing commitment to sustainable fishing via an open, transparent and respected process.

Kerry Coughlin is regional director, Americas, for the Marine Stewardship Council

March 2012 - SeaFood Business 

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