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Point of View: Wild, farmed organic standards feasible
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
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
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