Challenging Alaska’s sustainable salmon greenwash

June 5, 2024

By: David Mills

David Mills, Watershed Watch Salmon Society Fisheries Advisor

Salmon are among the most gracious species on earth. They return to their home rivers in such numbers to ensure the success of the next generation and to feed the bugs, birds, trees and bears, and all the other things that make salmon habitats healthy and productive.

So, it’s easy to imagine what a sustainable salmon fishery looks like: It’s one that catches some of that surplus to feed to people as well.

Humans aren’t so gracious. We require incentives to fish sustainably, so in 1990 the Marine Stewardship Council created the first labels to differentiate bad actors from good. Alaska salmon were among the first to receive certification and North American consumers rewarded them.

Unfortunately, those incentives took on a life of their own. Alaska learned how to game the recertification process, with MSC and other eco-labelers turning a blind eye to increasingly destructive fishing practices that threaten salmon originating from B.C., Washington, and Oregon – and species like the orcas that depend upon them.

In April, Watershed Watch fought back, catching the mighty Alaskan fishing industry by surprise with a formal objection to MSC and last month an independent adjudicator accepted that objection and cleared a path for the first formal challenge to Alaska’s salmon fishery certification. Alaska’s unsustainable practices are catching up with them in many ways.

The objection is a collaboration between Watershed Watch, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and it follows two general lines of attack. First, we say the third-party assessor (MRAG Americas Inc.) improperly characterized the fishery as “selective” in recommending Alaska salmon be recertified as sustainable.  Second, MRAG ignored critical violations of U.S. law that occurred during the re-assessment period. For example, a 2022 Washington State District Court summary judgment that found that absent other measures, the Southeast Alaska troll fishery would “adversely affect” southern resident Killer whales, which are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In the case of unselective seine and drift gillnet fisheries, this means MRAG underestimated their impact on non-target species like B.C. coho, chum, chinook, steelhead, and sockeye. Many are from endangered populations and Alaskan fisheries are the largest source of mortality. There is no basis in reality to call them “sustainable.”

In regards to the troll, it is flat out greenwashing to call “sustainable” a fishery that over-harvests endangered chinook in violation of U.S. law, further depriving Killer whales their primary food source.

We have met once with fishing industry reps and the certification assessment body in hopes of ‘settling out of court’. They were not willing to concede anything. The next step is for Alaska’s Fishery Development Foundation to explain to the adjudicator why a fishery with so many flaws should continue carrying the MSC label. 

It’s not the only challenge Alaskan fleets are facing. Vancouver-based eco-label Ocean Wise recently released a new Rapid Assessment Standard, setting new criteria that Southeast Alaska salmon will surely fail. 

As for us, we’re preparing our closing arguments for the MSC process. We’re feeling confident the adjudicator will side with us. 

Alaska has sold its salmon with the MSC blue check labeling it “sustainable” since 2000. It’s leveraged that certification to achieve ‘recommended’ status from Ocean Wise and Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

We believe consumers want to buy sustainable seafood and we look forward to seeing them finish this fight when they realize Alaska’s unsustainable fisheries profit by harvesting our endangered fish and threatening the survival of the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved species.

We know shopping for sustainable seafood isn’t easy. This new report from Ocean Wise “Assessing the Sustainability of B.C. Salmon” can help, as can local suppliers like Skipper Otto who buy from sustainable fisheries. You can also buy from small-scale fisheries that harvest from known-stocks. Check out Authentic Indigenous Seafood.

And if you haven’t already done so, there’s still time to send the Marine Stewardship Council a letter. Tell them to decertify Alaska’s unsustainable interception fisheries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share This Story!

Challenging Alaska’s sustainable salmon greenwash

June 5, 2024

By: David Mills

David Mills, Watershed Watch Salmon Society Fisheries Advisor

Salmon are among the most gracious species on earth. They return to their home rivers in such numbers to ensure the success of the next generation and to feed the bugs, birds, trees and bears, and all the other things that make salmon habitats healthy and productive.

So, it’s easy to imagine what a sustainable salmon fishery looks like: It’s one that catches some of that surplus to feed to people as well.

Humans aren’t so gracious. We require incentives to fish sustainably, so in 1990 the Marine Stewardship Council created the first labels to differentiate bad actors from good. Alaska salmon were among the first to receive certification and North American consumers rewarded them.

Unfortunately, those incentives took on a life of their own. Alaska learned how to game the recertification process, with MSC and other eco-labelers turning a blind eye to increasingly destructive fishing practices that threaten salmon originating from B.C., Washington, and Oregon – and species like the orcas that depend upon them.

In April, Watershed Watch fought back, catching the mighty Alaskan fishing industry by surprise with a formal objection to MSC and last month an independent adjudicator accepted that objection and cleared a path for the first formal challenge to Alaska’s salmon fishery certification. Alaska’s unsustainable practices are catching up with them in many ways.

The objection is a collaboration between Watershed Watch, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and it follows two general lines of attack. First, we say the third-party assessor (MRAG Americas Inc.) improperly characterized the fishery as “selective” in recommending Alaska salmon be recertified as sustainable.  Second, MRAG ignored critical violations of U.S. law that occurred during the re-assessment period. For example, a 2022 Washington State District Court summary judgment that found that absent other measures, the Southeast Alaska troll fishery would “adversely affect” southern resident Killer whales, which are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

In the case of unselective seine and drift gillnet fisheries, this means MRAG underestimated their impact on non-target species like B.C. coho, chum, chinook, steelhead, and sockeye. Many are from endangered populations and Alaskan fisheries are the largest source of mortality. There is no basis in reality to call them “sustainable.”

In regards to the troll, it is flat out greenwashing to call “sustainable” a fishery that over-harvests endangered chinook in violation of U.S. law, further depriving Killer whales their primary food source.

We have met once with fishing industry reps and the certification assessment body in hopes of ‘settling out of court’. They were not willing to concede anything. The next step is for Alaska’s Fishery Development Foundation to explain to the adjudicator why a fishery with so many flaws should continue carrying the MSC label. 

It’s not the only challenge Alaskan fleets are facing. Vancouver-based eco-label Ocean Wise recently released a new Rapid Assessment Standard, setting new criteria that Southeast Alaska salmon will surely fail. 

As for us, we’re preparing our closing arguments for the MSC process. We’re feeling confident the adjudicator will side with us. 

Alaska has sold its salmon with the MSC blue check labeling it “sustainable” since 2000. It’s leveraged that certification to achieve ‘recommended’ status from Ocean Wise and Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

We believe consumers want to buy sustainable seafood and we look forward to seeing them finish this fight when they realize Alaska’s unsustainable fisheries profit by harvesting our endangered fish and threatening the survival of the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved species.

We know shopping for sustainable seafood isn’t easy. This new report from Ocean Wise “Assessing the Sustainability of B.C. Salmon” can help, as can local suppliers like Skipper Otto who buy from sustainable fisheries. You can also buy from small-scale fisheries that harvest from known-stocks. Check out Authentic Indigenous Seafood.

And if you haven’t already done so, there’s still time to send the Marine Stewardship Council a letter. Tell them to decertify Alaska’s unsustainable interception fisheries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share This Story!

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Leave A Comment

Related Posts