Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wild Caught Alaska Pollock Gets a Boost at McDonald’s

Wild caught Alaska pollock will get some name recognition come February in a new fast food chain promotion of sustainable fisheries.

The labeling on orders of McDonald’s USA Filet-O-Fish and Happy Meal Fish McBites will boast that the fish is “wild caught Alaska Pollock responsibly sourced from an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified sustainable fishery.” The packaging will also carry MSC’s logo and website.

It’s good news for Alaska’s $1 billion pollock fishery, including Community Development Quota programs like the Coastal Villages Regional Fund, which attributes $50 million of its 2012 earnings to pollock harvests. In fact, said CVRF spokesman Dawson Hoover, the CDQ’s salmon and halibut commercial fisheries are subsidized largely by those pollock harvests.

While the McDonald’s campaign heralds the sustainability of the pollock fishery, which earned MSC certification back in 2005, the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel is crying foul, saying the pollock fishery should not be called sustainable because its incidental harvests of wild salmon are adversely affecting commercial and subsistence harvests in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region. AVCP President Myron Naneng says restrictions placed on salmon harvesters make criminals out of people fishing for food rather than profit.

CVRF’s Hoover notes that the state’s six CDQ groups have jointly agreed to pay the freight to bring some of the bycatch salmon caught in pollock fisheries back to Alaska from SeaShare, which is the recipient of the bycatch salmon. Most of that returned salmon goes to the Food Bank of Alaska in Anchorage, which offers its food to affiliated food banks around the state. Still the affiliates must pay the freight to get the food to rural locations and the cost of shipping frozen salmon out to rural Alaska is so high that none of it gets to the western Alaska villages affected by restrictions on king and chum harvests.

Kerry Coughlin, America’s regional director for MSC, said that MSC is really sympathetic with the low Chinook runs in Western Alaska, ”but there is no real scientific evidence that the pollock fishery is responsible for the decrease in those runs.” The McDonald’s pollock promotion will be good for Alaska’s fisheries, because McDonald’s sells 300 million fish sandwiches annually in the US alone, Coughlin said.

Meanwhile, MSC is on the verge of certifying Russian pollock as a sustainable fishery, and many in the Alaska pollock fishery are concerned, saying Russian harvesters are not held to the same standards. MSC’s not commenting on this, saying that’s still a work in progress, and McDonald’s had no comment on whether they would consider using MSC certified Russian pollock in future promotions.

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