This week, McDonald’s doubled down on its commitment to Alaskan pollock. The chain announced that it will stop using other fish and switch to 100 percent Alaskan pollock in all 14,000 of its United States restaurants.
The pollock is served in Filet ‘o’ Fish sandwiches, and in a new menu item called Fish McBites.
McDonald’s also unveiled new packaging for those products, featuring the Marine Stewardship Council’s ecolabel. The label says McDonald’s fish is verified as sustainable, “wild-caught Alaskan Pollock.”
McDonald’s is paying the MSC to use that label, though they won’t divulge how much.
According to Erik Gonring, a public affairs representative with McDonald’s, it’s part of a strategy to attract socially conscious diners.
“We know customers are increasingly interested in knowing where their food comes from, and also understanding what a business does to be a responsible corporate citizen,” Gonring says.
Sylvia Ettefagh, who manages the fishing boats in the Unalaska Fleet Cooperative, says McDonald’s new menu and marketing could give Bering Sea fishermen a boost.
“With the addition of the fish bites, they’d be using more pollock,” says Ettefagh. “And it certainly isn’t going to hurt, by putting the MSC label on even their fish sandwiches.”
McDonald’s started using Alaskan pollock 55 years ago. Since then, the fishery’s developed a reputation for sustainability. It was certified by the nonprofit MSC almost a decade ago. Some environmental organizations have criticized the MSC’s standards as being too lax.
But regardless, the designation has given Alaskan fishermen an edge over their major competitors in Russia. Alaska’s pollock is more expensive, but considered more sustainable than Russian fish.
But now, the Russian fishing industry is now pursuing the MSC designation as well. One segment of the Russian fishery just passed its sustainability study with the lowest required score.
Ettefagh says that’s a big letdown for Alaskan fishermen:
“We’ve worked hard at getting the word out and changing things within our own systems, to step up to the plate and be good stewards and good citizens,” says Ettefagh. “And yet, the Russian certification is sliding in on the minimum.”
Gonring, the McDonald’s PR representative, says he can’t confirm whether McDonald’s would buy fish from a certified Russian source.
“I know that our commitment is to source from 100% sustainable fisheries, and the MSC standard is the one we’ve chosen,” Gonring says.
The MSC is supposed to make a final judgment on the Russian pollock fishery in February. McDonald’s new Fish McBites will also debut in February.
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