I haven’t shopped at Walmart in decades. However, if I did make a habit of going there, I’d be on a break with the retailer over their short-sighted policy to refuse Alaska salmon on the grounds that it no longer carries the Marine Stewardship Council blue label.
Seafood leaders from Alaska met with decision-makers at Walmart last week, and reportedly, the retail giant seems open to revising its policy. But why is this all coming up now? Alaska announced it was dropping MSC certification two years ago in favor of Responsible Fisheries Management standards, as developed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute even previewed the decision with a press tour of some of their biggest buyers, Walmart included.
While I don’t like Walmart, there’s no denying that the retailer is where it is today because its leaders have vision. And it’s a successful vision by many accounts (depending on your definition of success). That's why I’m surprised that those same leaders didn’t get the message in 2011 that Alaska salmon is leading the charge to the post-MSC American seafood industry. Clearly nothing about Alaska salmon management has changed. And if one follows the history of MSC, its approval of Alaska salmon was as helpful to the ecolabel as it was to Alaska.
Now that MSC is the big name in global fishery certification, Alaska would like to part ways, amicably. They seem to have outgrown each other. But the megacorporations who partnered with MSC (and NGOs) to send the ecolabel to the next level aren’t too keen to see the future of sustainable seafood without their big blue anchor.
Here’s the thing about anchors: They serve you well in a storm. But when the weather clears, you have to reel them in to get to the next destination.
The skies are blue and clear over Alaska as well as the rest of this country’s wild fisheries, which are managed for sustainability year-round, coast to coast. If Walmart wants to be the great American retailer, it can start by selling great American seafood, any and all of it.
Photo: Boxes of salmon hoisted at the docks in Petersburg, Alaska, 1915; Frank and Frances Carpenter collection, Library of Congress