By Bob Tkacz
A shipment of Russian salmon, label with fake and apparently poorly reproduced copies of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute black diamond logo was seized and destroyed when it was landed in Florida last summer.
Other salmon in the same shipment that was unmarked was apparently allowed to be landed after its origin was confirmed and it was properly labeled, according to second hand information from ASMI.
Ray Riutta, ASMI executive director, said he was contacted by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Enforcement office in Miami after agents there noticed orange-colored reproductions of the ASMI logo on the salmon packaging. "They thought the logo on the packaging, which was a copy of ours, was suspicious," Riutta said, Dec. 12. "It was a terrible copy. It was clearly a knock-off."
ASMI was never directly involved in the incident but was informed of the discovery and consulted on disposition of the matter by the NOAA Enforcement and general counsel's office. "It was through the diligence of the NOAA Enforcement Office that this was picked up," Riutta said.
The entire shipment totaled about 59,000 pounds of Russian origin salmon that had been processed into fillets in China and bound for the US market, according to Riutta. ASMI was not told what portion had been labeled with the ASMI logo. "I don't know how much was ours or not, enough of them that they were concerned," Riutta said.
Further details on the shipper and US buyer of the salmon, and information on whether any charges are pending in the matter, could not be obtained in December. The NOAA Enforcement agent handling the case in Florida did not respond to multiple phone calls over a two-week period.
Although sales of salmon or other seafood falsely claimed to be from Alaska is not an unusual occurrence, the unauthorized use of the ASMI logo, which constitutes trademark infringement, is rare. Riutta said ASMI's ongoing sustainability certification of Alaska's salmon, crab, halibut and groundfish fisheries, which will include chain of custody documentation, will strengthen the institute's and the state's ability to take legal action when cases like the Florida incident arise.
"I think we'll have better evidence because we'll have a much better chain of custody than we have now," Riutta said.
The certification process for the statewide salmon fishery is nearing completion completed soon and formally announced at the International Boston Seafood Show, March 20-22. Sustainability certification of the other fisheries is expected through this year and 2012.
Currently a company that wants to use the ASMI logo must have written permission, which is available only after execution of a signed agreement containing detailed requirements and prohibitions and must be renewed annually. The agreement requires users to provide ASMI a "reasonable amount of time" to review the intended use.
Among logo use guidelines require that it should "always set on a straight, horizontal baseline; it should never be rotated or positioned on an angle." Distortion of the logo to achieve some graphic effect is not allowed. Use of the registered tagline "Wild, Natural & Sustainable" with the logo is encouraged but not required, but if the tagline is used it must appear in the Tuffy Regular Italic font with a one-point stroke.
Riutta said completion of the chain of custody process will be followed by a rewrite of the terms of logo and promotional material use after consultation with the Alaska Dept. of Law. "When we write criteria for enforcement of the logo we're going to want our lawyers to weigh in on it. We want them to be as tight as we can," Riutta said.