Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Talks Begin to Keep Alaska Seafood on Walmart Shelves

In the grocery section of a Walmart store in Anchorage, hard by refrigerated units filled with frozen meat and poultry, is a smaller freezer area displaying wild salmon fillets, the bulk of them labeled “product of China.”

On Sept. 4, the offerings included packages of 1.75 pound fillets, plus individual portions of skinless and skin-on fillets, labeled “wild caught US,” “product of China,” and “MSC certified.”

The only wild Alaska seafood harvested and processed in Alaska for sale in the freezer section were Copper River Seafoods’ portions of wild sockeye and coho salmon, Pacific cod and halibut portions.

On a sidewalk bordering on the store that day, more than four-dozen commercial fish harvesters and their supporters waved signs urging Walmart to recognize the sustainability of Alaska fisheries and make more Alaska seafood available to their retail customers, whether or not it bears the MSC eco-label.

At issue is Marine Stewardship Council certification, which Walmart executives have made a rule of thumb in purchasing salmon from Alaska.

MSC spokesman Mike DeCesare said that the commitment of companies to the MSC certification program is strictly voluntary, and that MSC is not involved in these current discussions.

John Renner, vice president of Cordova District Fishermen United, said Walmart needs to recognize that consumers deserve the right to choose sustainable American seafood. The fishermen, said Renner, want Walmart as an advocate, rather than an adversary.

The demonstration at which Renner spoke came a day before representatives for the state of Alaska, including the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game met with senior executives for Walmart and Sam’s Club at their corporate headquarters in Arkansas to explain Alaska’s long-term commitment to sustainable fisheries. While Walmart has not announced any policy changes yet on purchasing seafood, a company spokesman said the meeting was a productive one and gave Walmart an opportunity to learn about Alaska’s own fishery certification program.

Meanwhile the list of companies opting for the United Nations Food and Agriculture based Responsible Fisheries Management certification program sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute keeps growing. The latest names added to the list include Alyeska Seafoods, Westward Seafoods, Copper River Seafoods, E.C. Phillips and Son, Inc., Silver Bay Seafoods LLC, Yukon Wild Inc., and Unisea Inc.

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