Written by Jen Finn
September 20, 2012
Time for a change
When the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute decided to stand down as its state's agent for the Marine Stewardship Council last year (effective October this year), my first thought was, "This is good news for the long-term marketability of sustainable seafood." Alaska is known to pave the way to new horizons, and I believe ASMI's move to a less expensive third-party sustainability certifier will level the playing field for more and smaller fisheries.
That's not to say that I believe ecolabels are the answer. Many consumers do not recognize or rely on them. The fishing industry has a clear need for national seafood marketing that focuses on the fact that all wild U.S. seafood is sustainable. (Alaska Sen. Mark Begich introduced a bill in September that would provide funding for just such a purpose.)
The MSC has done a good job of increasing consumer awareness of sustainable fisheries, especially overseas. However, in September it received another influx of funding from several foundations that have their own political schemata. And in the same week, the World Wildlife Fund (which takes funding from some of the same groups who donate to MSC), declared MSC the "most compliant" with international criteria. The report was touted as being independent. If you share funding sources, I think it's fair to say you're not independent — of each other or of your donors' agendas. I believe in the work the World Wildlife Fund does to promote gear innovations and habitat restoration. But I have a difficult time trusting its assessment of the MSC as unbiased.
Fiona Robinson, the editor of our sister publication, SeaFood Business, wrote in a September editorial from the International Seafood Summit in Hong Kong about a panel discussion there: Dr. Hussain Hassan, minister of state for fisheries and agriculture in the Maldives, said third-party certifications for sustainable fisheries need to consider people. "You won't have sustainable fisheries if our lives aren't sustainable," said Hassan.
Truer words have never been spoken. If we don't take care of fishermen, we won't have fisheries. If we move to the Walmart/conglomeration model in this industry, we will have a few very wealthy business owners instead of hundreds or thousands of independent middle-class small-business owners. And once we move to the bigger-is-better model, there will be no going back.
On that note, I would like to take a moment to celebrate and congratulate our 2012 NF Highliner Award winners — Kevin Wark of Barnegat Light, N.J.; Dewey Hemilright of Kitty Hawk, N.C.; Wayne Werner of Alachua, Fla. — and Brian Rothschild, winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award. These are the people who bring hope to their fishing communities. Their work sheds light on the way things can and should be done in this industry, locally and globally. Read more on page 24.
— Jessica Hathaway
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