A month after being awarded an international environmental certification, Alaska flatfish species are receiving new attention from seafood buyers and restaurateurs. After a three-year comprehensive evaluation, the fisheries earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Their products are now eligible to bear the MSC ecolabel recognizing that the seafood is harvested from a sustainable and well-managed fishery.
"The Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC) recognized what a strong story there was to tell about stewardship and sustainability in the management of Alaska's flatfish fisheries. MSC certification allows us to better distinguish our products from others while also positioning us as a model for flatfish fishery management around the world," said John Gauvin, fisheries science projects director for the Alaska Seafood Cooperative which brought the fisheries forward for certification as the Best Use Coalition.
To celebrate the certification, Seattle's Anthony's Homeport Restaurant prepared appetizers and entrees using two of the certified species, yellowfin sole and rock sole, for events at the restaurant. Anthony's Executive Chef Pat Donahue noted, "It is always fun to experiment with new seafood items. The yellowfin and rock sole were no exception." Chef Donahue prepared steamed yellowfin sole in lettuce cups, a crispy parmesan rock sole, a pan seared yellowfin sole, and rock sole strips and chips.
Celebrity chef and award winning restaurateur Sam Choy, who just wrapped up a trip to Alaska, said certification should spell new markets for the fishery. "It's exciting to have newly certified sustainable seafood products for the culinary community to consider adding to the menu. With companies moving toward sustainable sourcing, more people ordering fish for its health benefits and with an economy which has us all exploring affordable seafood options, these Alaska flatfish species are perfectly positioned to be a hit with seafood buyers and restaurateurs across the country," said Choy.
The MSC-certified flatfish species are yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, rex sole, flathead sole, arrowtooth flounder and Alaska plaice. Management of the AKSC fisheries has changed significantly in recent years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented new incentives that ended the "race for fish" for these fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands.
Beginning in 2008, the flatfish catcher-processors were allowed to form cooperatives and allocate certain target quotas and bycatch limits among the cooperatives. The end result was a significant reduction in bycatch. In a collaborative effort with fishers and scientists, fishing gear was modified to use sweeps raised off the seafloor to reduce the effect of fishing on the habitat and associated species such as crab.
With the certification of Pacific cod in January of this year and earlier certifications of pollock, halibut, sablefish, and Alaska salmon, this most recent certification of flatfish species means that most of the major Alaska fisheries are now certified as sustainable and well managed under the MSC program.