A new, larger, group of processors now has access to the Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel for their fish.
Last April, ten of Alaska’s major salmon buyers asked to rejoin the sustainability label they dropped in 2012. Negotiations failed at first, but eventually the Alaska Salmon Processors Association – led by Silver Bay Seafoods – agreed to hand over the certificate to the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which has finally occurred.
Bristol Bay salmon processors should be on a level-playing field when they go to talk to customers about sustainability next summer after the ongoing discussion over certification finally appears to be settled.
Pacific Seafood Processors Association President Glenn Reed said his organization has officially has the access to the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue sustainability label. That’s necessary for selling salmon in some markets, including to many European buyers. Alaska’s salmon fisheries were already certified as sustainable, but not every processor had access to the label. In fact, last summer, few were participants in the client group headed up by Silver Bay Seafoods.
“As of last week, the client group grew substantially to a much larger number of companies,” Reed said January 25. “The fishery has been certified throughout the process. The new part is the new certificate, which I think it went from 11 companies up to 32.”
Reed said that group of includes all of Bristol Bay’s major processors, and most in the state.
“I think the folks that have joined up with this new and expanded client group are all happy to be involved, and we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “I think the fact that now everyone that’s selling Alaska salmon is on the same footing, and the program isn’t being used as a marketing tool to exclude some and include others, I think we’re in a much better space than we’ve been in for a while.”
The new certificate comes after a long back-and-forth over who could access the label.
In July, PSPA initially said it would apply for certification on behalf of Trident, Alaska General, North Pacific and Peter Pan, among others. Those companies were among the group who had applied to rejoin the existing MSC client group for Alaska salmon, which is headed up by Silver Bay Seafoods, earlier this year. Negotiations between the two groups of processors had stalled, and PSPA agreed to work on a second certificate, open to anyone who wanted to join. Later in the summer, the Alaska Salmon Processors Association agreed to hand over the certificate to the new group. ASPA was the group headed by Silver Bay, and also included Copper River.
ASPA Director Rob Zuanich said his group agreed to hand over the certificate because it seemed better for the industry than putting the other group through the whole certification process again, which can be expensive and time-consuming, and requires hiring a consultant to review Fish and Game’s management.
“Recognizing their resolve to want to move forward with a new client group, we said, look we’ll just transfer the MSC certificate to your new group and allow us to become members of your new group and let’s all go on and do better things.”
Now that the deal is official, the main change for ASPA members is actually a little cost savings.
“The cost of the certification, which are relatively small, will now have a bigger pool of processors to draw upon, so member companies will pay respectively less, that’s a good thing,” Zuanich said.
Reed said this means the certificate is now up for wider use, which is a little bit of good news relative to who can sell into what markets, and will remove one barrier for sockeye sales next summer.
“Everybody will be able to sell into the same markets,” he said. “It’ll be competitive as it always is, but at least there won’t be a reason for saying, well, you’re from a sustainable fishery, but you’re not in the MSC program so we’re going to go with someone who is. Now that group is pretty much everyone.”
Other concerns about next summer’s sockeye market remain. Reed noted that there’s still a strong dollar that can make foreign sales difficult, and Bristol Bay is expecting a third summer in a row with a large sockeye run, adding to the stock that’s already in freezers.
Prince William Sound’s salmon fisheries still are not part of the certified fishery.