Alaska Processors Reach A Truce In Seafood Ecolabel Dispute

The Marine Stewardship Council's logo. Photo accessed via Wikipedia.
The Marine Stewardship Council’s logo. Photo accessed via Wikipedia.

The Alaska salmon processors at odds over who can use the the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue sustainability logo have finally reached an agreement.

The Alaska Salmon Processors Association, or ASPA, has agreed over to hand over the MSC certification to the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, or PSPA. That’s expected to happen in October.

Alaska’s salmon buyers need to be in the client group to use the MSC’s label. Despite criticisms of the costly certification, MSC has proven necessary to sell salmon in some markets, especially Europe.

PSPA President Glenn Reed says he thinks most of the processors who dropped MSC in 2012 and sought to rejoin this year will be part of the new group.

“We’re anticipating that it’s going to be most of those that have expressed interest over the last month, and if so, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 30 different companies.”

The list of processors that originally wanted to rejoin the MSC this spring includes Trident, Ocean Beauty, Icicle, Peter Pan and a handful of others.

ASPA members who maintained the certificate when the others left are also expected to be part of the new group. They’re led by Silver Bay Seafoods, and Copper River is also a member.

Earlier this month, PSPA attempted to break the gridlock between the processors in the existing group and those wishing to join by applying for its own MSC certificate. PSPA says it’ll drop that effort.

Reed says that by taking over the existing client group, all interested processors are ensured access to MSC markets next summer, rather than risking that the proposed second client isn’t certified in time.

“For example, if our application to process were to receive objections from someone, the time that is required, even in a fishery that is already certified, to stand up a second group, might put us in a position that by next summer we wouldn’t have an active certificate, so there was risk associated with that. The benefit to us in going with the existing certificate and trying to get everybody in, I think the initial benefit is that there’s certainty that we’ll all have the opportunity to use the MSC program for sales next year.”

Adding MSC’s blue label to salmon packaging doesn’t come cheap for processors who wish to do so. Reed says he doesn’t know how PSPA will divvy up that cost.

“Our goal is to have an equal cost sharing basis, either equal in some sort of unit of measure, I think in the past, if you go back far enough, they had somewhere between two or three categories, if you processed this many pounds, you were at this level, or a range of tonnage you were at a different level. I think that there’s also some consideration of just doing it by weight. There may be other considerations, but the cost sharing basis will be the same for all members that choose to join.”

ASPA Executive Director Rob Zuanich says ASPA is not asking PSPA to reimburse it for prior costs associated with the certificate, but that the new group will be responsible for new costs going forward.

“No cost, just the new client group will now be responsible for maintaining the annual surveillance audits on the current certificate and hopefully in 2018 we’ll continue the certificate.”

Zuanich says ASPA agreed to transfer the certificate so that the processing industry could move beyond what had become a divisive issue.

“I think with the announcement by PSPA to start a new group and a new assessment, we thought it was just in the best interest of the industry to consolidate activities and put this matter behind us.”

The current certificate applies to most, but not all of Alaska’s salmon fisheries. Prince William Sound is excluded. Reed says that’ll stand for now, but could change in the future.

“The decision whether or not to try and reopen the discussion on Prince William Sound may be something that is available to us now, it may be something that will have to wait until the certificate runs its course, those are some discussions we need to have and will be at least partially driven by the rules under which the certificate is written.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker intervened earlier this summer, saying the gridlock was threatening the profitability of Alaska salmon during an abundant year… At one point the two groups attempted arbitration to resolve the issue.

Commerce Commissioner Chris Hladick says the state wasn’t involved in this final solution but is glad the issue is resolved.