Today’s New York Times story on Alaska’s row with Walmart is surprisingly well-informed. (That’s no slant on the Times, but anyone who follows American fisheries knows mass media tends to grasp neither the big picture nor the nuance of the industry.)
The story covers how the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute decided to move away from Marine Stewardship Council certification and toward Responsible Fishery Management through certifier Global Trust (using FAO guidelines). One hiccup? As David Jolly writes, “Someone forgot to check with Walmart.”
It’s pithy, but it’s wrong. No one forgot to check with Walmart. The insinuation that Alaska would overlook the importance of the world’s largest retailer is in fact a little insulting, even if it’s just a joke.
ASMI held extensive meetings with Walmart before they moved to RFM certification.
Reportedly, Walmart didn’t believe Alaska would actually go through with it. Where they got that advice is up for speculation. But my guess is that seafood is not on the front burner for Walmart’s corporate leadership, so they didn’t spend much time wringing their hands over the possibility.
Not so in Alaska, where seafood is a top export commodity.
The fact is, ASMI tried to play fair. They did their best to give ample warning to all the retailers who buy their fish, so those buyers might have an opportunity to be educated on what MSC really means (or doesn’t mean) for American fisheries and seafood consumers. ASMI didn’t go looking to pick a fight with retailers. They tried to establish a dialogue, starting more than three years ago.
So when Walmart came down on the side of MSC this summer and announced their refusal of Alaska salmon in favor of MSC-certified Russian product, ASMI (and Alaska’s political leadership) came out swinging, as well they should.
What ASMI has done by moving away from MSC is open the door for better marketing of all wild American fisheries, which are all managed for sustainability under our own federal statutes.
With half of the nation’s wild fish coming from Alaska, ASMI has the power to break down some walls. I stand with them, because I have hope for a better future for America’s fishing fleets.
Photo: Spawning and abundant sockeye swim upstream. Courtesy J Armstrong/University of Washington