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Editor's Note: Sustainability a shared responsibility

By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
August 01, 2008

Last month I attended the Alaska Seafood Forum on Sustainability in Anchorage hosted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). Alaska is a prime example where third-party certification may not be needed to ensure buyers a product comes from a sustainable fishery.

The message from ASMI at the Forum was clear: Alaska seafood is sustainable and buyers should look for the official Alaska Seafood logo to ensure they are buying a quality product. Since 1959, Alaska's constitution has mandated that "fish … be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained-yield principle." In summary, careful stewardship of marine resources has been the hallmark of fishery management since Alaska became a state.

ASMI used the venue to unveil all new POS materials with the tagline "Alaska Seafood: Wild, Natural & Sustainable."

"It's not a rush to 'Get Green' for Alaska fisheries. We're about responsible fisheries and sustainability," said Randy Rice, ASMI's technical director. "We won't be putting out a new eco-label. We do wish to educate on sustainability behind the Alaska Seafood logo."

While the Forum was about Alaska, attendees - seafood buyers from around the world as well as marketers and journalists - gained a clearer understanding of the challenges the world faces in terms of sustainable seafood and eco-labels. Some speakers noted that while third-party certification may bring benefits to retailers, a plethora of eco-labels on the market threatens to confuse not only buyers but consumers who have little information beyond a logo.

Peter Hajipieris, director of sustainability and external affairs for Birds Eye Iglo and former director of sustainability and external affairs for retailer Tesco, noted that most developing countries can't aspire to meet a certification program's needs, which puts those fisheries at a direct disadvantage.

"The industry has to become directly involved in developing minimum sustainability criteria. Industry must change the 'if' mentality to 'how and when?,'" said Grimur Valdimarsson, director of fish products and industry division with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

A comment from Hajipieris summed it up best: The global seafood industry "faces tremendous challenges in 10 to 20 years. We need a more global audience to articulate challenges. It's a shared responsibility."

As more and more suppliers learn that sustainability needs to be both upstream and downstream from their respective companies, the concept of shared responsibility will hopefully become much clearer.

What are your thoughts on sustainable seafood and third-party certification? I look forward to reading your comments. E-mail me at frobinson@divcom.co m .


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