« May 2012 Table of Contents
Point of View: Put the fish first
by Sean Parnell
May 04, 2012
For Alaskans, this is an invigorating time of year. The snow is finally gone, as the long Alaskan winter gives way to endless summer days. Alaskans look forward to seeing the first salmon return to local streams, and are busy repairing gear and getting ready for spring and summer fisheries.
Salmon have been returning to Alaska for thousands of years. With good stewardship, future generations will continue to enjoy the amazing bounty of Alaska’s oceans and rivers. The 49th state will continue to provide the world with high-quality, wild-harvested protein from icy, clean waters.
With Alaska’s reputation for sustainable fisheries management, putting the fish first since before statehood, I was asked recently why the state supports a marketing emphasis focusing on its constitutional mandate for sustainability rather than the external certification of the Marine Stewardship Council.
The answer is pretty simple and is based in state constitutional law: When Alaska achieved statehood, well before eco-label programs were imagined, we committed to sustainably managing Alaska’s seafood for all generations. Since 1959, the state constitution has mandated management of our fisheries on the sustained-yield principle. We’re the only state with such explicit conservation language.
Sustainable fishing is part of every Alaskan’s heritage, is embedded in our state’s DNA and is a point of pride. Thousands of families make their living from the sea; fishing and seafood processing employ more people than any other industry in our state.
As responsible stewards, Alaskan families know they must sometimes put aside short-term gain. All participants in Alaska’s fisheries are committed to obeying fishing regulations that preserve and sustain the yields. We know the value of instituting increasingly careful harvesting methods, accurate reporting and applying scientific data to protect both the fish and livelihoods of current and future generations.
With Alaska’s longstanding leadership and commitment, it’s no surprise we would be one of the first, along with Iceland, to choose the best possible model of sustainable fisheries certification for our state. The responsible fisheries management certification model Alaska uses is based on the most recognized and internationally accepted set of guidelines, written by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Many consumers are aware of Alaska’s deeply held commitment to sustainability, yet we understand that companies need an independent third party that can certify the responsible management of regional and state fisheries.
As the stewards of Alaska’s resources, we agreed to provide independent third-party certification that fits within individual companies’ corporate social responsibility framework.
The FAO-based model does just that. FAO documents provide a balanced framework for fisheries eco-certification and have formal International Standards Organization (ISO) Accreditation.
Further, FAO-based certification is the only formal ISO accredited fishery certification; ISO confirms accurate representation and use of the FAO documents as a standard; and ISO confirms an accurate, credible and objective assessment has been made.
We have also removed any logo licensing fees.
Our effort to provide choice in credible certification alternatives became embroiled in the debate over who defines sustainability, which is caught up in a market access and governance disagreement that has one non-Alaskan party seeking control.
That concerns me. Those of us responsible for managing our fisheries, along with our fishing industry, cannot, as a matter of principle and practice, tolerate a situation where a single private entity, on the basis of a changeable private standard, has sole authority to decide who can and cannot market seafood to the public.
We need reasonable options for sustainability certification to avoid a monopolistic lock where consumers and fishing communities lose on choice, quality and price.
For these reasons, we are providing, along with Iceland and others, this FAO-based alternative certification model that reflects our state’s constitutional mandate.
In Alaska, we are confident of our wild and sustainable Alaska seafood reputation, and we’re duty-bound to preserve it.
Across the globe, we will promote an FAO-based certification model as a socially responsible, firmly grounded and constitutionally driven business practice.
Sean Parnell was elected as lieutenant governor of Alaska in 2006, became governor in 2009 and was re-elected in 2010