Walmart “serious” about non-MSC fish (June 2013)

WALMART is “serious” about non-MSC fish; “evaluating equivalent standards for Alaskan salmon fisheries

‘To Be MSC-certified or Not to Be a wild-caught seafood supplier to Walmart?

A June 4, 2013, editorial article by SeafoodIntelligence Editor, Bertrand Charron

Including full/un-edited June 3, 2013 WalMart Statement to SeafoodIntelligence (scroll down).

The Associated Press wrote on Monday (July 1st) that Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich “is taking issue with a decision by Wal-Mart to stop buying Alaska salmon products not certified as sustainable by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council” and has asked – in a letter to the firm’s president and CEO – that Walmart reconsider making the MSC a de facto “sole arbiter” in terms of wild-caught seafood “sustainability”… and thus/now purchasing. The State-funded Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is said to be “very concerned”. However, ASMI took a well-calculated ‘gamble’ when it pulled-out of the MSC-certification programme for Alaska salmon in January 2012, and travelled last year to Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to try to convince the retailer that the Alaska salmon fisheries management and certification model/’ASMI scheme’ is ‘equivalent’ to the MSC’s.

Notwithstanding, Walmart has ‘as of today not yet determined any other standard to be equivalent to MSC’ and confirmed toSeafoodIntelligence that they take this issue “seriously” and “seek a resolution”: “[…] Starting in 2006, we laid out a policy to ensure the seafood we sell is certified as sustainable by a third party. We work with MSC, recognized as the global standard for sustainable fishery management, to make sure fisheries are certified, and we also work with fisheries that are not currently certified but that are making progress toward better fishery management in a public fishery improvement project (FIP) […] We’ve proudly sourced salmon from the state for many years, and we will continue to purchase from Alaska fisheries that meet our accreditation standards or demonstrate that they’re working to continually raise their standards.” Walmart concludes its seafood policy statement to SeafoodIntelligence by stating February 2013 “we initiated a study to evaluate equivalent standards for Alaskan salmon fisheries.”  [Full statement below at the end, scroll down]

The issue is closely followed by many other wild-caught seafood and Alaska salmon buyers worldwide.

The latest concerns seemingly ‘started’ last week when Alaska salmon suppliers were told by the world’s n°1 retailer that for the USA: “To meet our requirements for wild-caught seafood, the source fishery must be certified sustainable to the MSC standard (or equivalent) or, if not certified, actively working toward certification. As of today, Walmart has not yet determined any other standard to be equivalent to MSC. Therefore, no other standards will be accepted as equivalent until such time as we announce our decision.”

In fact, the decision to adhere to the above seafood sourcing policy in North America dates back to… January 2006, when the decision sent a momentous shockwave of seafood-“sustainability”-in-action throughout the US and beyond; leading and convincing other retailers worldwide to follow suit. Issues and concerns at the centre of the ongoing development (re. ‘Alaska salmon’ sustainability and notably the impact of its high reliance on the hatchery/aquaculture/enhancement program) predates this by many years…

The hatchery/aquaculture Alaska salmon  issue; the difference between [truly] wild and [hatchery] ‘wild-caught’ salmon

The core of the issues at stake – eg. salmon marketing, market access,  “sustainability” and claims/certification of., fisheries enhancement and management, and thus Alaska politics – revolves in this case greatly around the “sustainability’ issues surrounding the hatchery/aquaculture-based components of Alaska’s “enhanced” salmon fisheries and their potential environmental impacts on (‘truly’) wild salmon stocks. Many of the ‘conditions’ for recertification of the Alaska salmon fisheries focused on the ‘hatchery’ issues (‘straying’ of hatchery salmon into ‘truly wild’ salmon areas, interbreeding, etc…). MSC first outlined its concerns in 2000 (first year of MSC certification for ‘Alaska salmon’) and were repeated with more vigor in 2007, and since… Others (including Alaska scientists & stakeholders) had emitted concerns since “at least” 1975… but particularly since the 1990s-2000s.

The MSC announced in June 2013 that the Alaska salmon fishery which most-heavily relies on hatcheries (~80%) – Prince William Sound – will not be re-certified in 2013 at all, [even if other parts of the Alaska salmon fisheries were to be recertified this year ; a big ‘IF’, though it mayoccur – retrospectively, in 2014 – for the salmon harvested (and frozen/canned) in 2013].

Significantly, the influential Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch programme also told SeafoodIntelligence in 2012 it – too – will start scrutinising the potential impacts of hatchery programs, notably in Alaska. In February 2013Seafood Watch’s then Senior Science Manager, Dr Tom Pickerell confirmed that work was underway and that a contract and scope of work has now been agreed with an expert contractor to draft the ‘impacts of hatcheries’ review and that “[Seafood Watch] expect[s] this to commence shortly”. This review should be completed in the fall 2013 with the aim of being published in a scientific journal.

Of Sustainability, Science… and Marketing/Labelling

Despite most (if not all) ‘Alaska salmon’ being labelled “wild”; many (up to half, eg. in 2010) are ‘wild-caught’ but not ‘truly wild’ as they originate from hatcheries/aquaculture operations and fed in their juvenile stages with feeds similar to those employed in ‘traditional’ commercial aquaculture. For instance, melamine-tainted feed were fed to Alaska hatchery salmon when the FDA’s largest-ever scare occurred in 2007, and ‘hatchery salmon’ stocks are considered very distinctly from truly wild counterparts; they cannot be considered ‘similar’ nor endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And many concerns relate to their several potential impacts (eg. genetic, but also competition for food and habitat) on wild fish in those areas where they are stocked, and beyond (‘straying fish’). There are currently billions of hatchery salmon in North Pacific waters (not only in Alaska/US; also Canada, Russia, Japan) and there is “mounting evidence” that such hatchery-wild salmon interactions could be ‘harmful’ to truly wild salmon.

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) released on June 17 its first sustainability overview of so-called “wild” (Chinook, chum, coho, pink & sockeye) Pacific salmon fisheries. Their analysis shows that [only] half (51%) of such “wild” salmon comes from fisheries in “good shape”. “Therefore, to understand and assess salmon sustainability, buyers and consumers need to know which fishery, not just which region, their fish are coming from.” SFP highlights salmon hatcheries as “a leading sustainability concern across all salmon-producing regions. Read more: http://is.gd/SalHalt

Which fish is which?

However, how do consumers (and buyers in Europe) know which fish is which?

Until now most people (incl. many seafood professionals) were not even aware of the hatchery/wild distinction, but things are changing. The Walmart decision will contribute to that.

Fishermen, fisheries managers and marketers know/can know precisely which fish comes from a hatchery fisheries, but the ‘industry’ and many NGOs (including the MSC) are resisting the temptation to fully inform consumers at labeling stage, choosing rather an all-encompassing ‘sustainability’ eco-logo/label. Distinguishing hatchery and wild salmon would inevitably blur the arguments in the oft-simplistic and oft-misleading ‘wild vs. farmed’ salmon debate. Best has often been to ignore the issue altogether…

So: Is this “fair” to consumers (especially environmentally-minded ones)? Is it “fair” to wild salmon and to the environment?…

At the moment… it is ‘fair game’ in a world where commercial and marketing considerations often ‘win’…

One way forward would/will be for consumers to ask their fishmonger/seller: ‘Is this salmon a hatchery fish – or it it [truly] wild?’ or demand the mention ‘hatchery salmon’/’originated from an hatchery-dependent fishery’ to be present somewhere on the label/packaging.

What’s the broader picture?

But of course, the other side of the ‘hatchery & sustainability’ coin is, beyond the PC & economically-driven and often simplistic wild-is-better-than-farmed vision of an ‘environmentally-friendly’ seafood consumption: what is actually ‘better’ for the environment and wild (and sometimes endangered) salmon stocks?

1)    fish/kill and eat a truly wild salmon, in stocks that may or may not be struggling?

2)    fish/kill and eat a hatchery salmon from a non-self sustaining stock, with potential impacts on truly wild stocks BUT whose consumption may also relieve pressure on truly wild stocks?

Thus could hatchery fish be perhaps ‘even better’ than wild fish? A sacrilegious question which leads to another – unwanted for many – line of thought:

From a “sustainability” viewpoint considering overall local & global environmental impacts, carbon footprint on a representative & comprehensive scale (using life cycle assessment methodology – LCA), food safety, traceability, and many other considerations (CSR and others)… could farmed seafood (“aquaculture”, without which there would be a lot less Alaska so-called “wild” salmon) actually be a sustainable way forward; or ‘worse’: the sustainable way forward?

Limited growth prospects for wild-capture fisheries

The latest UN FAO figures (2009) put the level of ‘fully exploited’ stock in the world amount to 57.4% of the total, whilst “over-exploited” fish stocks make 29.9% of the total and “non-fully exploited” represent [only] 12.7%. There is thus very little room for any increased global fisheries output growth in decades to come: it’s rather the contrary…

And that’s when one relies on official statistics and before taking into account illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which even the ‘most occidental’ of countries have experienced: in the EU (‘black fishing’ for mackerel in UK/Ireland in the 2000s; illegal/under-declared or over-quota bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean (by Spain, France, Italy, etc… and/or “massive fraud” on an international scale); or even in an MSC-certified fisheries; such as recently in the Alaska Pollock fishery in a case involving one the largest U.S. fishing company. In 2009, in its first ever report to Congress identifying nations whose fishing vessels were engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  (IUU) singled out France, Italy, Libya, Panama, the People’s Republic of China, and Tunisia for illegal fishing in 2007, 2008.

In NOAA’s 2013 report: the 10 nations listed by NMFS are: Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Panama, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela…

And there is also “legal overfishing” whereby nations fail to agree on international agreement in how to share quotas amongst themselves: as is the currently the case in the ‘mackerel war’ over the sharing of the Northeast Atlantic mackerel stocks: Parties have “unilaterally” allocated themselves quotas to share out the ICES recommended Total Allowable Catch (TAC) which exceeds (for the past 2/3 years) the TAC by near 50%. All seven (!) NE Atlantic mackerel fisheries in the Faroes, Iceland, Norway, Scotland, Ireland (2) and Denmark saw their MSC certificate ‘suspended’ [they are still ‘certified’] … Also, only last week (June 24), a ‘nationally-legal-but-internationally-disputed-unsustainable-fishery (Faroese Atlanto-Scandian herring fishery) saw its MSC certification suspended… But it is not ‘personal’ – or rather, ‘national’: its about the fishery… Today (July 4) The Faroe Islands saithe fishery was MSC-certified…

Quotes re. aquaculture growth & sustainability:

“While capture fisheries production remains stable, aquaculture production keeps on expanding. Aquaculture is set to remain one of the fastest-growing animal food-producing sectors and, in the next decade, total production from both capture and aquaculture will exceed that of beef, pork or poultry.” – UN FAO as it released in September 2012 the ‘State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture’ (SOFIA) 2012 report.

Our key focus in recent years has been how to reduce or eliminate the reliance of the industry on fishmeal as a key ingredient in fish food” – James Rose, MD of Skretting* Australia, speaking at the Australasian Aquaculture Conference 2012 as it concluded on May 4, 2012. “Our ultimate goal is to have a product so that we don’t have to use fishmeal at all. […] That would mean we don’t have a reliance on what is a very limited resource and it opens up a much more sustainable future because we are no longer reliant on that very finite resource.” […] “Over the next ten years our focus will be very much pushing through with sustainable aquafeeds and that means increasing our knowledge of nutrition and expanding the palate of raw materials that are available for use in fish foods so we are not reliant on any individual raw materials.” [*Nutreco-owned Skretting is the world’s leading fish (salmonids + non-salmonids) feed company]

We now have the technical capability to grow salmon on zero marine raw material. At present this is not commercially viable” – Kjell Bjordal, head of one of the world’s leading fish feed producer, Cermaq-owned EWOS (1,081,400 tonnes of fish feed sold in 2011), in a presentation at the European Maritime Day 2012 in Gothenburg (May 22, 2012). [EWOS is now the world’s n°1 ‘salmonid’ {salmon + trout} feed company]

Such ‘outrageous’ consideration for some – but taken as granted by many international leaders & decision-makers looking to the 2030+ horizon – indeed flies in the face of many years of communications oft-aimed at ‘diabolizing’ [but sometimes also very rightly critical of] aquaculture and de-marketing programmes, particularly when farmed salmon is concerned (thus best for the ‘wild’ not to be labelled or associated with the ‘farmed’, right?!).

Which leads us to Q/A n°3:

3)    Or undergo a ‘market transformation’ process whereby seafood consumption is ‘directed’ at other ‘more sustainable’ species, farmed or otherwise?

One quickly understands that many – if not all – of the real issues behind so-called conservation and sustainability are predominantly mired by economic and thus political considerations. There are some who speak of “sustainability”, “fisheries sustainability” and “conservation”. These are all different but intertwined concepts… and imperatives. There are also many (not-one-fits-all solution/advisory) solutions – not just one – depending on species, markets, products, regions, for wild, farmed and enhanced seafood products, etc.

Nonetheless, when applied to Alaska fisheries and aquaculture/hatchery salmon, and farmed salmon, and seafood in general: these issues will increasingly become topics of debate as more studies, reports and science emerge (finally) to highlight the impacts (potential or real) of hatchery salmon fisheries. These concerns have become concomitant to addressing the sustainability of ‘enhanced’ fisheries – whether MSC-certified or not – and Alaska marketers and businessmen/fishermen better get used to the ‘idea’.

“GAME OVER”?!

There is a monumental struggle going on between the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the domestic seafood industry although not everyone realizes what is happening to them. If MSC beats the Alaskan salmon processors into submission, by convincing giant retailers like WalMart to boycott Alaskan salmon, then its game over. […]”  Excerpt of a letter (“Marine Stewardship Council Bullying Alaska Salmon Processors”) by Bob Jones, Executive Director of the Florida-headquartered Southeastern Fisheries Association (SFA), posted… February 3, 2012… on the SFA websitehttp://seafoodsustainability.us/uploads/MSC_bullying.pdf

To better understand the long-brewing rift between some various regional sections of the ‘Alaska salmon fisheries’ (eg. no salmon hatcheries in Bristol Bay), ASMI and the MSC; among others… and thus potentially with all those retailers, food services and consumers who rely on MSC eco-labelling and certification to purchase “sustainable” wild-caught seafood; read the following articles:

Or Follow us on Twitter (@Salmoskius) for the latest developments…

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Selected readings via the 34,000+ article SeafoodIntelligence.com  News Database:

(a non exhaustive selection, among the many hundreds of relevant articles…)

(Many) More relevant news items on the 34,000+ articles SeafoodIntelligence.com news database and on Twitter ‘Salmoskius’:

Full un-edited Walmart statement in response to a SeafoodIntelligence inquiry on Walmart’s U.S. seafood policy and specifically Alaska; received July 3-4, 2013 (depending on time zone). The world n°1 retailer will also soon confirm whether or not the policy below also applies to ASDA in the UK.

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At Walmart, we are committed to ensuring that high-quality, sustainable seafood is available to our customers today and for generations to come. Starting in 2006, we laid out a policy to ensure the seafood we sell is certified as sustainable by a third party. We work with MSC, recognized as the global standard for sustainable fishery management, to make sure fisheries are certified, and we also work with fisheries that are not currently certified but that are making progress toward better fishery management in a public fishery improvement project (FIP).

Through this process, we’ve helped improve fisheries around the world. In fact, today roughly 69 percent of the wild fish we purchase and sell in the U.S. comes from fisheries that are either MSC certified or under assessment. Another 21 percent is purchased from fisheries with creditable, public FIPs and 9 percent comes from fisheries that have started working toward FIPs. This demonstrates how we continue to work with fisheries that are making headway. It’s also helped us become a better steward of the environment and a better partner to our suppliers, NGOs and the communities in which we operate.

We’ve proudly sourced salmon from the state for many years, and we will continue to purchase from Alaska fisheries that meet our accreditation standards or demonstrate that they’re working to continually raise their standards. We work with NGOs who are experienced in fishery management and encourage others to work with any number of NGOs who have experience in this area.

In February of this year, we initiated a study to evaluate equivalent standards for Alaskan salmon fisheries. We look forward to the results as we continue our conversations with fisheries, suppliers, industry experts and NGO partners. This is an issue we take seriously and we seek a resolution that ensures the highest standards of quality and sustainability for our customers and future generations.”

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Other WalMart statements:

Wal-Mart Takes Lead On Supporting Sustainable Fisheries

All Wild-Caught and Frozen Fish Suppliers to be Marine Stewardship Council-Certified

Bentonville, Ark., Feb. 3, 2006 – Wal-Mart today announced plans to purchase all of its wild-caught fresh and frozen fish for the United States market from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fisheries within the next three to five years.  The first step toward this goal will be to have product that currently comes from MSC-certified fisheries carry the MSC eco-label starting later this year.  This initiative is part of Wal-Mart’s continued commitment to offering sustainable products at affordable prices to its customers.

“We believe it’s absolutely essential to take a leadership role in working with suppliers to ensure that the world’s wild fish populations can grow and replenish themselves,” said Peter Redmond, Wal-Mart vice president and divisional merchandise manager of deli and seafood.  “The MSC label assures our customers that they are buying from a retailer that is taking concrete steps to keep wild-caught fish available to present and future generations.  This is both environmentally responsible and responsive to our customers.”

Wal-Mart is encouraging fisheries to adopt policies that ensure customers will continue to be supplied with a full range of wild-caught fish.  The company currently works with a number of MSC-certified fisheries and is giving non-certified suppliers three to five years to develop plans and programs to become certified.  If these suppliers commit to this initiative and succeed within that timeframe, Wal-Mart will continue to work with them.

“This is a big and exciting development, demonstrating a leadership position,” said Rupert Howes, chief executive of the Marine Stewardship Council. “As part of a wider company commitment to sustainable seafood procurement, Wal-Mart has committed to source, over a number of years, all of its fresh and frozen wild capture supplies for the United States market from fisheries certified against the MSC’s standard. It is hoped that this commitment to the MSC program will encourage other fisheries into the assessment process and provide a powerful new route to raise awareness of sustainable seafood choices with the American public.”

“Our MSC certification initiative is only the latest result of Wal-Mart’s efforts to promote and engage in sustainable business practices in the fish and seafood sector,” said Peter Redmond.  “We have been working on programs for farm-raised shrimp and salmon and hope to be able to discuss our plans in those areas in the near future.”

In addition to its work with the MSC, Wal-Mart is partnering with Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund to make improvements such as reducing harmful environmental impacts and encouraging support for broader marine eco-system management and protection activities.

The MSC program is one of many initiatives that reflect Wal-Mart’s commitment to leadership in business sustainability.  The scope and scale of the company’s business presents great potential to effect positive change.  Through its business sustainability program, Wal-Mart takes advantage of and creates opportunities both to influence its own operations and to lead change in the business world at large.  As part of its mission to improve the quality of life for people around the world, Wal-Mart has committed to taking a leadership position in the areas of climate and renewable energy, waste reduction and recycling, and the development of sustainable products.

More about Wal-Mart’s environmental initiatives is available on www.walmartstores.com/sustainability.

Last Updated: 04.07.2013 @ 11.56

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