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Point of View: Wild, farmed organic standards feasible

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Glenn Haight
July 01, 2008

In 2001, I started as the fisheries development specialist for the state of Alaska. At the time, Alaska was attempting to develop organic certification standards for wild seafood. The issue was before the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's policy group that offers "organic" recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture.

At the time, the NOSB snubbed the attempt to develop standards for wild seafood production systems. USDA's National Organic Program (NOP), the office designated to uphold the 1990 Organic Food Production Act, lacked the resources to challenge the NOSB. The campaign fizzled despite the act's provisions allowing for wild seafood certification, legislative mandates and a strong effort by Alaska forces.

SeaFood Business' article, NOSB Proposes Organic Feed Rules, (May '08, p. 10) brought to mind these past efforts. The article reported carnivorous farmed fish continue to struggle to obtain organic certification standards due to the wild fishmeal feed requirement. My joy in a past competitor's misfortune gave way to more productive sentiments of opportunity for both wild and farm sectors of the seafood industry.

It is in the aquaculture industry's interest to support organic standards for wild fish. Wild organic fishmeal would pave the way for carnivorous farmed fish organic certification, say for salmon or tuna.

Per the act, the NOP is required to establish standards for wild 
seafood. If the NOSB lacks the vision to fairly participate in this effort, the organic program must challenge their policy body. There are several principals it must consider when developing standards.

The size or scale of an operation is larger in a wild production system. Whether it is a mountain range, a valley, lake or bay, standards must allow for greater site sizes.

Wild fisheries are a public resource managed by governments. In this way, fisheries managers are analogous to crop-growing farmers. Fisheries management must be considered in an organic wild seafood production system.

An organic label tells the consumer the product contains no significant human additives or contaminants. Traditional organic operations intentionally alter a natural system by planting a foreign crop and work diligently to assure it is free of human contaminants, thereby returning it to some natural balance. An organic wild food operation works within a pre-existing natural system and assures the end product is free of human contaminants. Contaminants found in the food during the processing phase would eliminate the product as organic and force the managers to root out the source.

Establishing organic certification standards for wild and aquaculture is a matter of will. Perhaps as the wild industry continues to mold itself into a high-value, niche seafood source in the world, it will begin to see aquaculture not only as a worthy competitor, but as a high paying customer for its byproducts. With that understanding, perhaps the aquaculture industry may see how wild seafood is an important component in its goal of obtaining organic certification standards.


Glenn Haight is a fisheries business specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Juneau



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