Dear John 2.0 (June 2013)

DEAR JOHN 2.0: Will “concerns” re. hatchery salmon lead to ‘loss of political support’ in Alaska for the ‘wild’/‘enhancement’ strategy?

 An open letter to John Sackton, Editor of Seafood.com
By Bertrand Charron, Editor of SeafoodIntelligence.com, posted June 28, 2013

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Dear John,

I believe it is high time – since my first ‘Dear John’ editorial of February 2012 – for a ‘Dear John 2.0’, as two of your well-articulated video comments during the past week do warrant praises and rebuttals of sorts…

You have passionately commented Thursday (June 27) – in your “SFP’s advice to Walmart is destructive” (and constitutes “racketeering”) editorial –  on how you were ‘floored’ by the ‘shocking’ decision by Walmart (the world’s n°1 retailer) to reportedly stop buying frozen Alaska salmon unless it is either eco-labelled by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or if the State of Alaska (the fisheries regulator) and/or AK salmon processors do initiate work with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) organisation on a ‘fishery improvement project’.

You have aptly pointed out that there was potentially a “conflict of interest” in Walmart asking the SFP to assist (and be paid for) by the Alaska State and/or salmon industry for a plans which would ultimately influence a buyer’s decision and “make such fisheries sustainable” [your words]. I think you make a good point.

If anything and if WalMart is demanding – in order to comply with its own sourcing policy requirements – that SFP be employed in some way by the Alaska salmon industry, then I think it could be judicious that there should be a contractual agreement between Walmart and SFP whereby WalMart agrees for instance to pay SFP directly for their time and work, stipulating clearly that the SFP must give a ‘truthful’/’unbiased’ advice and must carry out its work with guarantees of independence ‘no matter what’ the outcome of their work advice may be. This w/should remove the paid client-advisor relationship. It would then be up to Walmart to factor-in its expenses in its own price negotiations with Alaska salmon processors/industry; and/or to put it in its ‘Sustainability/CSR’ portfolio of expenses.

PS: the SFP issued a rebuttal comment re. Seafood News’ comments in which SFP’s CEO Jim Cannon states, among many other points that: “[…] Your account of the meeting between ASMI and SFP in Boston is inaccurate.  It is a matter of regret that the ASMI representative quoted failed to inform you of all the facts, especially that SFP stated clearly that they would have no role in an Alaskan salmon FIP and sought no payments or involvement whatsoever.[…]” See: SFP Responds to Seafood News on Alaska Salmon

I know the MSC wrote in its December 2000/January 2001 Certification Report on Commercial Salmon Fisheries in Alaska: [p147] “Most Alaskans consider themselves expert on fisheries and fish conservation matters.” Indeed… it’s still – at least partly – a ‘free country’, isn’t it?! There is a ‘freedom of speech’ conducive to ‘freedom of purchasing decision’; and the more the advices, the better, right?!

Last week, in your June 19 video editorial [“sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute [ASMI]”, which incidentally pulled out together with processors representing ~80% of the Alaska salmon processing volume of the Alaska salmon fisheries MSC-recertification process in early 2012] you had eloquently commented on the “collapse” of the attempt by the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association (PSVOA) to continue the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification process for all the Alaska salmon fisheries.

You had indeed duly noted that, all salmon products from the 2013 Prince William Sound [PWS] ‘enhanced’ salmon fishery will not be eligible to bear the MSC ecolabel. You also highlighted the SFP’s latest report which found that ~half of the Pacific salmon stocks were ‘at risk’.

You also said yesterday (June 27) that “This whole salmon issue with the MSC has been a complete travesty”: I again partly agree with you.

How indeed could the MSC certification of Alaska salmon fisheries have continued post-2007 – the MSC having highlighted serious and “controversial” concerns regarding hatcheries’ impacts from the very first certification report in 2000 (published on January 23, 2001); and since subsequent MSC re-certification was due to be conditional on addressing certain ‘conditions’ – Yet the Alaska salmon fisheries were all re-certified… until end October 2012 ??

… And the re-re-certification process is still ongoing (albeit late) without the conditions of the 2007 certification having been fulfilled

“A complete travesty”… you must be right!

Oh yes, I forgot to mention: the MSC said this week (June 24 2013 publication of a letter dated June 7, 2013): “The current reassessment includes all Alaska salmon except for salmon from the Prince William Sound. This unit will remain under assessment pending further data and evaluation.” Finally! the PWS salmon fishery (~80% dependent on hatchery fish), is being specifically scrutinized. Oh, and also: “… if the new MSC certificate is issued, only Alaska salmon that is sold from fishermen to designated companies in the PSVOA Alaska Salmon Client Group will be permitted to carry the MSC ecolabel or ‘MSC-certified’ claim”. Oh, oh and too: “Eligible Alaska salmon from the 2013 harvest can only be sold as ‘MSC-certified’ or carry the MSC ecolabel after the fishery is recertified. However, during the reassessment process, Alaska salmon harvested in 2013 can be traded in the supply chain as ‘Under-MSC-Assessment Fish’ (or ‘UMAF’) provided certain requirements are met. […]”

That’s indeed a lot of potentially confusing statements for retail buyers and consumers to process who may have thought that all of the 5-species of Pacific salmon roaming the huge expenses of beautifully wild Alaskan waters could be considered with one brief description as a single fishery… Not only is the 2013 Alaska salmon season almost over; not only is there currently no MSC-recertification; not only can only a few PSVOA-designated companies apply for the right to use the MSC ecolabel; but the certification if-and-when it is issued will not apply to all Alaska salmon AND in the meantime, the use of the coveted blue ecolabel is forbidden and a new mention is allowed: Under-MSC-Assessment Fish… What is what from where and when?…

It’s potentially “a mess”, and the best would surely be not to mention any of this, right?!

Since billions of hatchery salmon are currently roaming the oceans, particularly in the NW Pacific, and since anything between 20-50% of the yearly commercial Alaska salmon harvest originates from ‘enhanced’/hatchery salmon stocks (~33% in 2012, and again in 2013), it is conceivable that ‘sustainability-aware/concerned’ scientists, fishermen, eNGOs, buyers and consumers’ concerns re. potential hatchery impacts should be taken into account; and that many well-intended seafood advisories should & will have to be updated (and again “regularly” – [a terms to be defined]).

So… “Why should Walmart and SFP impose their views on the Alaska fisheries management system”?!

Why indeed should a buyer have a view on the quality, quantity, “environmental-friendliness”, “sustainability” and/or price of the products he decides – or conversely, not – to buy?

Dear John… Wake up!

In “Seafood Market[ing]”, there is ‘Market’; i.e. “a meeting together of people for the purpose of trade by private purchase and sale”; “the act or an instance of buying and selling”. Nobody said there is a duty to buy or sell a product against one’s will.

Retailers too have to lend themselves to the laws of supply and demand; and the State of Alaska, seafood marketers & companies and the agencies working for/on their behalf don’t have the exclusive right of having a view/opinion on what constitutes – or not – a “sustainable fisheries”; no matter how the concept may or may not be enshrined in any corporate, institutional or constitutional policy document. Increasingly, too, all those stakeholders in the seafood chain have to consider corporate and social responsibility (CSR) and “Sustainability” imperatives and concerns; with every link of the ‘chain’ relying on its own suppliers’ “sustainability” to assert their own. Many, when it comes to wild-caught fisheries, have now also pledged to source “only” MSC-certified fish products (and also, growingly, farmed seafoods bearing the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s label).

So… Where does that leave them when it comes to assessing Alaska salmon?

How dare retailers & consumers (and not specifically WalMart) have confused feelings?!

As you said last week/June 20: “But, the MSC has floundered on these rocks; and because they couldn’t really address it, they decided to just ‘pump’ the whole thing into the year 2014.” Indeed…

Where I disagree is that nobody is necessarily intent on ‘forcing’ the Alaska fisheries management system to change ‘no matter what’. But some may want to raise questions (and those questions to be answered) before formulating a purchasing decision. People, consumers, businesses, retailers, anglers, nature-lovers, stakeholders… are entitled – surely – to say: “I’ll only buy this product if I believe it is produced in a responsible/sustainable fashion”.

Dear John, Believe it or not, not everybody wants to believe solely what they are told by state/nationally-funded marketing organisations. Nor should they have to… And by the way: This is absolutely not a comment specifically targeted at the Alaska authorities and or ASMI: This applies to all nations! Marketing goals and priorities from such organisations, bodies and governments do not necessarily mirror the “environmental sustainability” concerns of others. It’s is obvious… indeed and I must apologise for bothering to mention it.

Thus I believe the seafood advisory concepts you are referring to in your June 27 editorial (linked to Walmart’s “conditions” for continued purchase of Alaska salmon) results not so much in being an “imposition of views” on a particular authority/industry; but represents rather the conveying to that authority/industry that ‘one’s purchasing decision may be conditional on certain actions/standards being met’. It is then up to that authority/industry to weigh up the pros and the cons, the commercial merits of such proposal and the implications of taking it up, or declining it. That industry is free to choose to do business elsewhere, even if it may possibly feel offended about its ‘sustainability’ status and achievements being questioned. Nobody is forcing the Alaska salmon industry to sell its fish to Walmart after all!

This is also partly the result of various ‘market transformation’ and ‘demarketing’ concepts and campaigns which have firmly taken hold in the environmental NGO community in the past decade – including in the fisheries, aquaculture, seafood realms/markets. And they are good at it: they have learned a lot from the best marketers out there.

The marketing value of the “wild” concept has also a practical, business, price considerations. Is there a need to specify/emphasise/label the fact that all ‘wild-caught’ salmon may not be ‘the same’ –  i.e. to tell stakeholders and consumers that some Alaska salmon marketed as “wild” are in fact either ‘truly wild’ or born in aquaculture/hatchery operations and then ‘ranched’ in ‘enhanced’ fisheries [or “worse”: that they are wild-caught ‘almost truly wild’ salmon “born in the wild” from one ‘truly wild’ parent and one (+/- strayed] ‘hatchery’ salmon? I believe so! And that’s before we even start discussing hatchery salmon fisheries’ possible ‘distortion’ of the ‘wild/truly wild’ salmon market (and prices)…

Wild Alaska salmon are a perfect fit for social and health conscious consumers. The perceived value of a “wild” salmon, to these consumers, is usually greater than the one or two extra dollars they may spend on a wild fish compared to a farmed salmon.” – Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC) 2012 Economic Impact report.

Retailers do like to rely for their opinions on third-party experts – the qualities of which/whom (eNGOs, scientists and/or other ‘advisors’ acting under various agendas for ‘transforming markets’) – may conceivably be or not be to the taste of the industry/businesses which finds themselves in their sight. The respective interests, agendas and goals of such entities may not concur… To sum it up: this may or may not be to your taste John – or mine – which is also understandable. We’re luckily entitled and free to comment, and that’s wonderful: C’est la Vie

Dear John… I also gather you must support ‘transparency’ (you accused yesterday the SFP of not being ‘transparent’) and public scrutiny. Even perhaps if this includes the fact/view and may lead as a consequence to concerns over the sustainability of the State’s hatchery program?

Surely again, you must have read and be aware of what Gunnar Knapp, Cathy Roheim, and James Anderson wrote and foresaw in their WWF-commissioned and very comprehensive “The Great Salmon Run” report in 2007: namely that “if […] Alaska’s hatchery program bec[a]me a concern for some consumers in the future, it could possibly reduce political support within Alaska for the hatchery program” (See further quotes below)?!

Of course, and additionally, there are some other statements from the SFP which you probably view[ed] negatively [I can’t recall what the video editorial ‘sponsored by ASMI’ may have commented at the time]. Do you remember when they ‘took side’ in February 2012 and issued a briefing note in the aftermath of Alaska salmon processors pulling out from the Marine MSC programme stating the ASMI scheme & MSC “are not equivalent”? The first of the SFP’s key points was that – in its view – the alternative ASMI scheme put forward instead of the MSC “does not support a claim of ‘sustainability’ [“[…] the ASMI scheme may be credible as a claim that a fishery has a management system in place (that broadly conforms with the FAO code of conduct) but it cannot support a claim of ‘sustainability’.” The full Feb. 15 2012 SFP Briefing Note can be found here.]

Concerns re. impacts of hatchery programs on wild stocks are no ‘knee-jerk reaction’…

When it comes to hatchery salmon interactions with wild salmon – one of the main SFP concerns regarding Alaska salmon, the SFP’s sustainability overview of Pacific salmon fisheries released on June 17, 2013 among other recommendations urges “a North Pacific-wide moratorium on hatchery expansion until such time as risks to wild populations from hatchery impacts are, at the highest level, ascertained and integrated into a precautionary management strategy.” I understand this did not please you. On its website (http://www.sustainablefish.org/), SFP hails the support of some of its partners; including some of the larger fries such as Walmart and McDonald’s. It is important to at least consider carefully their views.

You mentioned yesterday/June 27 that: “Recently, as questions have arisen about Prince William Sound hatcheries and the impact on wild fish, the State of Alaska has embarked on a $5 million project to study the genetic interactions between wild and farmed fish.

I think the “Recently, as questions have arisen about [PWS & hatchery impacts concerns]…” part of your comment is absolutely and strongly misleading, as it leads one to believe that the Alaskan authorities initiated this project almost immediately in response to concerns, after they arose in the past year: This is not the case at all!

Also and since you are – absolutely rightly – concerned about “conflict of interest”, though one wouldn’t infer that there is any such occurrence without further discussion – you should also note and yourself point out that this “$5 million project” is funded “not only by the state, but also by hatcheries and processors” and that the Cordova-based Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) is carrying-out the project.

Quote from The Cordova Times article (September 6, 2012): “Probing the link between wild, hatchery salmon in Prince William Sound”:

“The state of Alaska set a 2 percent threshold for hatchery salmon straying in the sound. A three-year study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released in 2010, revealed much more widespread mixing, with up to 98 percent of hatchery fish in wild-stock streams. The question of the genetic impact of such a blend and potential interbreeding, however, remained unexplored for years, despite numerous calls from experts and the Marine Stewardship Council.”

Dear John, you must know, surely, that such “hatchery concerns” do date ‘way back’, to at least the 1990s and to the MSC’s very first involvement with the certification of the Alaska salmon fisheries: in 2000. [Even] The Alaska media stated a few months ago that “The existence of interactions between hatchery fish and wild stock salmon in Prince William Sound was established in the late 1990s […]” (Alaska Dispatch – 06.09.2012).

PS: SFP said in its response to Seafood News, among others: “We note that discussion and debate on the potential risks to wild salmon from hatcheries has been underway in Alaska since at least 1975, when the state adopted an interim genetics policy.”

To refresh – again – your memory (sorry… but it is a complex issue, with lots of different interests at stake, isn’t it?), below are a few excerpts of the many relevant comments – from the 2000/2001 & 2007 MSc certification (1st and 2nd) reports – when it comes to “concerns” re. hatchery impacts:

  • The First Final 2000 certification report published 23.01.2001 (a mere 12+ years ago) already stated (pp147-149): “We have identified the issues listed below as being controversial and which could bear on certification [… 2.] Management of fish culture activities, largely in Prince William Sound, may negatively impact wild stocks in the region.” […] 2. Over the past several decades Alaska has developed an extensive hatchery/open ranging culture activity, primarily located in Prince William Sound. There are concerns among some fisher groups and scientists that interbreeding between strays from the hatchery system may lead to lower “fitness” of the wild stocks in the region. There are also claims that local wild populations in the region have already suffered as a result of competition for available food, etc. However, other scientists feel that adequate safe guards are in place to prevent significant harmful interaction. The issues need constant evaluation by the State. » [NB: as underlined in the MSC report].
  • On Page 151-153: “3 Specific Requirements for Continued Certification […] The Department must identify long-range research needed to assess the magnitude of the interaction of hatchery programs on the wild stock gene pool and the effect on the reproductive fitness of those stocks. The department must document the programs, policies and regulations and statutes as well as specific actions taken to assure the consistency of the hatchery program with the Genetics Policy.
  • On Page 155: “All of these issues bear close scrutiny and therefore form the basis for a continued monitoring program of Alaska salmon management.” Etc…
  • The Second MSC Certification (i.e. 1st re-certification) report dated October 30, 2007 & released on 9th of November 2007 states:
  • [p200 – Prince William Sound Hatcheries] “… Attempts have been made to minimize adverse interaction between hatchery and natural salmon. However, the internal review process by ADF&G of hatchery practices for their ability to minimize hatchery effects on natural spawning salmon populations caused by interbreeding between hatchery and natural salmon, competition for food and space (juveniles and adults), and predation by juvenile hatchery salmon on natural salmon fry appears incomplete.…” […] “The current scientific literature identifies a variety of potentially adverse impacts of hatcheries on wild fish (NRC 1996, Flagg et al. 2000, Bilby et al. 2003, HSRG 2003, Brannon et al. 2004, Utter 2004, Mobrand et al. 2005, Nickum et al. 2005, Oosterhout et al. 2005).” […] “A growing body of evidence indicates that large-scale enhancement of pink and chum salmon might be affecting wild stocks through competition.
  • [p214] “Hatcheries – SCS received comments both pro and con with regard to hatcheries. Interestingly, in some cases both the negative and positive views expressed used the same information as the support for diametrically opposed arguments” […etc…] “Given the submissions received, our conclusions are that there are many good practices, but issues about hatchery effects on salmon and the ecosystem still remain and need to be addressed. […] According to some stakeholders, it is a waste of time meeting these conditions and it detracts from the needed management of the fisheries both in terms of economics and in terms of valuable time. Of course, other stakeholders hold the exact opposite view.

It you want to consider other ‘early’ sources of concerns, you could also read the 87-page October 2001 report by the Environment and Natural Resources Institute at the University of Alaska Anchorage entitled “Evaluating Alaska’s Ocean-Ranching Salmon Hatcheries: Biologic and Management Issues.”

Even Alaskan authorities say it is “likely” salmon hatcheries have an impact…

Dear John, you will also be aware, no doubt, that in the Request For Proposals document (RFP 2013-1100-102) released May 7 2012 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) which you hold in high regard and entitled “Interactions of Wild and Hatchery Pink and Chum Salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska” – the ~$4.5 million-budget project to which you referred several times – the Alaskan agency (presumably not arrogating without due knowledge of the implications of what they state), wrote [p25]: “[…] While policies and management strategies have been implemented to reduce risk to wild stocks, the scale of the Alaska enhancement programs makes it likely that wild stocks will be impacted by enhanced fish to some degree.”

So John, if you really want to point out how speedily the Alaskan salmon industry and State has and is addressing the ‘hatchery concerns’, you could also [I know… so many documents and references dating back quite a long way…] point out for (very good) bed-time reading the lengthy (but it has got colour graphs!) January 2007 345-page report: “The Great Salmon Run: Competition Between Wild and Farmed Salmon” authored by leading and internationally respected (‘even/especially in Alaska’) fisheries economists Gunnar Knapp, Cathy A. Roheim, and James L. Anderson; as commissioned by TRAFFIC North America and WWF. The Chapter IV specifically focuses on “The Role of Hatcheries in North American Wild Salmon Production”; including on the “Wild” image of Alaska Salmon…

A couple of selected quoted from The Great Salmon Run Executive Summary:
  • “We warn readers who are looking for simple answers to questions about interactions between wild salmon and farmed salmon that they will be disappointed” […]
  • “hatchery fish play a major role in commercial and sport catches.” […]
  • “A number of issues have arisen with regard to Alaska’s salmon hatchery program. During the 1990s, fishermen in regions of Alaska without hatchery production—in particular areas of interior and western Alaska dependent on chum salmon—argued that increased hatchery catches were responsible for the disastrous decline in prices which they had experienced. More generally, the question began to be raised whether Alaska salmon hatcheries were actually increasing the total value of Alaska salmon catches, or whether the value of the increased harvests was being offset by corresponding negative effects on prices.” […]
  • “Hatcheries add another dimension of complexity and ambiguity to the discussion over environmental, economic and social issues related to wild and farmed salmon.” “[…] an issue which may grow in importance over time is the effect of Alaska’s salmon hatchery program on the “wild” image of Alaska salmon fisheries.” […]
A few quotes from the Chapter 4 re. Hatcheries, Roles & Impacts:
  • Like those farmed salmon which escape into the natural environment, hatchery salmon may potentially affect the genetic diversity of natural wild salmon stocks. This is particularly a concern in Washington, Oregon and California.
  • Like farmed salmon, hatchery salmon compete in world markets with natural wild salmon.
  • Like farmed salmon, there are significant costs in producing hatchery salmon, and the extent to which hatcheries are economically viable depends upon market conditions.
  • Unlike farmed salmon, hatchery fish compete with natural wild fish for food. For these reasons, hatcheries add another dimension of complexity and ambiguity to the discussion over environmental, economic and social issues related to wild and farmed salmon.
  • “The relative importance of hatcheries also varies between different areas of Alaska.”
  • The Alaska Salmon Enhancement Program has clearly succeeded in increasing total salmon catches, particularly in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound. However, the program faces a number of challenges […] A fundamental problem for the Alaska Salmon Enhancement Program is that real (inflation-adjusted) prices have declined significantly since the start of the program, in particular for chum and pink salmon […]
  • Market Effects of Hatchery Production [..] How much Alaska hatchery catches may have depressed Alaska salmon prices, or whether or not hatcheries have actually increased the total ex-vessel value of Alaska salmon catches (not to mention net economic value after subtracting costs of hatchery operations) is not an easy question to answer.
  • Another set of issues relate to the management of commercial fisheries in which fishermen are catching mixed stocks of hatchery and natural wild salmon. If large returns of hatchery fish are mixed with depleted runs of natural wild fish, there is the potential for overharvests of natural wild fish runs.
  • Another concern relates to the “straying” of returning hatchery fish into streams with natural runs of wild salmon, with the potential for genetic change in the natural wild salmon populations. For all of these concerns, the scientific complexity of the issues, together with lack of data and research, makes it difficult to determine how serious the potential problems associated with the hatchery program may or may not be.

“Wild” Image of Alaska Salmon

  • An issue which may grow in importance over time is the effect of Alaska’s salmon hatchery program on the “wild” image of Alaska salmon fisheries. The salmon farming industry has been subject to growing criticism over alleged adverse environmental effects as well as market effects on wild salmon fisheries. As we discuss in later chapters, the argument has been made that because of these alleged adverse effects of farmed salmon, consumers should favor wild salmon over farmed salmon. Over time, some salmon farmers may respond to these criticisms by pointing out problems associated with wild salmon. One response is likely to be that not all Alaska salmon are fully “wild,” and that there are environmental and market issues associated with hatchery salmon as well as farmed salmon.10 If this caused Alaska’s hatchery program to become a concern for some consumers in the future, it could possibly reduce political support within Alaska for the hatchery program.
  • Full report (10Mb Pdf) here: http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/people/knapp/personal/pubs/TRAFFIC/The_Great_Salmon_Run.pdf

Furthermore, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) is not the only – nor the first -organisation now looking into the potential impacts of salmon hatchery programs in Alaska (and elsewhere: Russia, Japan, Canada/BC, etc.).

SeafoodIntelligence has, among others, for many years been drawing the attention to some of the many “concerns” raised.

Significantly, the influential Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch programme – on whose seafood advisories many retailers, food services, caterers and members of the public rely – and which has distributed tens of millions of seafood advisory booklets in the past decade – said in 2012 it – too – will start scrutinising the potential impacts of hatchery programs.

In March 2012, Seafood Watch’s then Senior Science Manager, Dr Tom Pickerell, told SeafoodIntelligence that it would specifically assess “hatchery-augmented” Alaska salmon fisheries. And that its “forthcoming assessments for hatchery-augmented salmon fisheries will look at hatchery impacts more explicitly than in existing assessments”. […] “Accordingly: […] The revised fisheries criteria will be complemented by specific interpretive guidance on how to evaluate salmon fisheries that include hatchery dimensions. We are developing an ‘issues paper’ on the “Impacts of hatcheries and appropriate management for hatchery-supplemented stocks.” This will be peer reviewed by leading experts and regularly updated to reflect new science […] We will update the recommendations in our US Pacific Salmon Seafood Watch Report when these are completed.”

Last year also, when speaking to both ASMI and MSC executives, the diverging views regarding ‘hatchery impact’ issues seemed quite central to the core of the Alaska salmon industry distancing itself from the MSC ecolabel, long before their schism erupted in full view of ‘the world’ in January 2012. They were many ‘warning signs’, as you know and reported yourselves many times in the past years…

In February 2013, Seafood Watch’s Dr 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.

So, now that the State of Alaska has – finally it seems – decided to begin investigating more thoroughly the impact of hatchery salmon on truly wild salmon stocks, one is supposed to think that ‘its all fine now’?!

At the earliest, one is talking about 2016-2017 before some of the first ‘official’ findings are out, and then what?

“Some preliminary field work started in 2012 to test some field methods, but the larger effort is now underway and will continue through 2016 […] Results from this study will help ADFG salmon managers make informed decisions about hatchery and wild salmon management.” – The Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) –  as it commented on June 3, 2013 that it is now in its second year of  a major contract from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) for a 4-year study entitled “Interactions of Wild and Hatchery Pink and Chum Salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska.”

For assessing impacts such as ‘fitness of hatchery strays in wild populations’, sampling may be done over two salmon generations; i.e. 6 years sampling for pink salmon and 11 years for Chums… Provided that delays may occur, that more data may be needed, that MSC re-certification may or may not take place; one is expected to wait till at least until 2023 to have the beginnings of any conclusive views on the sustainability of hatchery-based enhanced salmon fisheries?!

Perhaps if such studies had been initiated when the first concerns arose, decades ago; or when the MSC made these a ‘condition’ to re-certifications (12/13 years ago), ‘things’ would be clearer by now… But for the moment its: ‘wait-and-see’. The State of Alaska doesn’t know, scientists don’t know, you don’t know, I don’t know… But there are many “concerns”… And if people don’t “know” what they buy, often, they don’t buy it!

It is in the interest of all concerned – now that the not-so-trivial matter of hatchery-wild salmon interactions is finally and gradually ‘out in the open’ – to know. But let’s not go or speculate just yet as to why there may have been a will – or not – ‘not to know’…

After all: “knowledge is power”, right?! But I don’t have time, coffee, and other issues are awaiting.

So, really, Dear John, it would be rather optimistic to think that most salmon buyers – including Walmart in North America, but also elsewhere; eg. in Europe, Japan… – and consumers may or may not be satisfied/re-assured re. the “sustainability” of hatchery-based salmon fisheries, and remain confident in the expectative…

There are – and more will arise as more research finally gets underway – many questions and concerns to be addressed when it comes to the sustainability of many so-called ‘wild-caught’ or ‘wild’ salmon fisheries – with no labeling distinction between salmon originating from hatcheries & ‘enhanced’ fisheries (some such hatchery salmon were even fed [tiny amounts and absolutely insignificant from a food safety viewpoint, but otherwise important to note to highlight that these are no “truly wild” salmon] during the 2007 melamine scare; the U.S. FDA’s biggest food safety scare of all times, to date), and those from ‘truly wild’ stocks.

Don’t get me wrong, issue relating to hatchery salmon’s “sustainability” are important: just as there remains many issues to be addressed and constantly monitored when it comes also to the global farmed salmon industry. “They” too have to be “sustainable” and/or “responsibly” farmed. The point of this opinion piece is not to state ‘one salmon’ is necessarily better than the ‘other’; be it farmed in open-pens, farmed in closed-contained facilities, wild-caught from aquaculture/hatchery/enhanced fisheries, wild-caught from ‘truly wild’, wild-caught ‘hybrid’… Keeping a scrutiny on all the sustainability issues of interest to seafood and fisheries/marine environment stakeholders (and many don’t actually eat seafood or fish) is one of SeafoodIntelligence’s endeavours.

As you must know, I am constantly also rather critical (but I hope objective, as I try to be with ‘wild’ salmon) when it comes to farmed salmon as well (many hundreds of articles on that topics)l; and I can emphatically state that the overall CSR & Environmental sustainability reporting performances of the top salmon farmers in the world needs to be greatly improved. Another issue will be to look at the fisheries sector’s communication and reporting when it comes to CSR and Sustainability: that will also be interesting…

Perhaps a bit ‘hasty’, as it now turns out…

In January 2012, ASMI’s Executive Director said: “Alaska’s marketable traits extend well beyond sustainability […] Alaska salmon processors are already working with customers to begin the transition from MSC.”

When SeafoodIntelligence asked in April 2012 ASMI’s Seafood Technical Program Director, Randy Rice, ‘if pulling out of the MSC programme wasn’t a “huge gamble” after the likes of Walmart had pledged to sourcing MSC-only certified [for the wild-caught] seafood products’, he acknowledged “Yes it is”; and ‘wouldn’t they risk loosing customers?’ he answered: “potentially”… ASMI said the decision to pull-out from the demanding MSC programme was not taken “lightly”…

Well, perhaps… Walmart’s latest June 2013 declaration of intent re. Alaska salmon seems to indicate that ASMI and most salmon processors may have lost their “gamble” and that it was not necessarily ‘the right decision’, at least as far as world n°1 retailer Walmart is concerned?

Alaska regulators or, ASMI’s or the trade press, do not hold a veto as to what can be reasonably be conceived as “sustainable” seafood. Likewise: there is more to purchasing “sustainable” seafood than exclusively buying products bearing the MSC (or ‘similar’) eco-label.

Perhaps, a confident ASMI and Alaska salmon industry has under-estimated the strength of the bonds, trust and ambitions established between the MSC and Walmart. When the latter “introduced a new label” to the market in January 2006, most consumers in North America had probably never heard of the MSC and what it stood for. By being one of the first major-league retailers to back the MSC and its visionary endeavours – and by committing to source 100% of its seafood in North America from MSC-certified suppliers and fisheries – Walmart gave a massive boost and ‘publicity coup’ to the MSC ‘sustainable fisheries’ programme. It’s been rocketing since then…

To wrap it up (… you still there?) it’s never too late to try to engage into reconciliation. This is not personal. It is as much “business” as it is “conservation” and/or sustainability”… The winning formula – there must be one for all concerned – should be a win-win for the oceans as much as for businesses that thrive on its sustainable exploitation, where advisories reflect the fast-changing pace of ‘science’ and where buyers and consumers become increasingly informed and active when it comes to “sustainability”. Again: work, work, work and dialogue!

Dear John, don’t get me wrong: I do value and appreciate very much your views… I simply don’t always agree!

COFFEEEEEEEEE

END

PS: SFP responds to ‘misleading’ Seafood News on Alaska salmon & hatcheries; “strongly object”

The SFP CEO Jim Cannon has responded to the article and editorial in the June 27th edition of Seafood News. Among others, SFP says:

Excerpts:

[…] These articles consisted of ‘reporting’ and ‘editorial’ although the tone of the two pieces was not significantly different.”

[…] there are genuine differences of opinion regarding the management of Alaskan salmon and we expect those differences to be aired robustly and publicly. We have no quarrel with Seafood News in this regard.

[…] We refute though that we ignored any information presented to us by ASMI or anyone else. We note that discussion and debate on the potential risks to wild salmon from hatcheries has been underway in Alaska since at least 1975, when the state adopted an interim genetics policy.

[…] We stand by our conclusion that Alaska needs to do more to demonstrate hatcheries in Prince William Sound are not damaging wild salmon runs, and that they should at a minimum freeze hatchery production at current levels until either conclusive evidence is available showing no impact, or management measures have been implemented to reduce and detect impacts.

Simply stated, the precautionary approach requires conservative management in the face of uncertainty, and places the burden of proof on those activities that pose a risk.

SFP has never sought leadership of fishery improvement projects (FIPs) for financial gain. […] Contrary to the misleading reporting by Seafood News, many fisheries and other institutions are running successful FIPs and publicly reporting their workplans, commitments and progress. […] Your account of the meeting between ASMI and SFP in Boston is inaccurate.  It is a matter of regret that the ASMI representative quoted failed to inform you of all the facts, especially that SFP stated clearly that they would have no role in an Alaskan salmon FIP and sought no payments or involvement whatsoever.

[…] Thirdly, regarding a “negative” impact on fisheries management. Customers for any product have a legitimate right to question how it is produced and the management systems used, to ask for improvements if they have concerns, and to stop buying if those concerns are not addressed.

[…] it’s ridiculous to suggest the customers are somehow undermining management systems simply by expressing their legitimate preference and deciding whether to buy or not.

[…] Many fisheries around the world have engaged proactively and positively with their customers to find mutually acceptable solutions, and we hope Alaska’s salmon producers will also.

We welcome honest debate about fisheries management and we expect there to be disagreements and fiercely expressed opinions. But Seafood News does itself or Alaska no favors by conflating a disagreement over a narrow fishery management issue with scandalous assertions that have no basis in fact.

Full SFP response here: SFP Responds to Seafood News on Alaska Salmon

Some of the links:

(Many) More relevant news items on the 34,000+ articles SeafoodIntelligence.com news database:

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On Twitter @Salmoskius:

Don’t-know-what-Alaska-salmon-hatchery-interactions-with-wild-salmon-are-or-could-be-&not-sure-I-want-to-know:  RIP 1975-2013 http://is.gd/DearJohn2

@SeafoodcomNews  @JohnSackton Will “concerns” re. #Alaska’s #hatchery #salmon lead to loss of political support? Mix praises & rebuttals editorial http://is.gd/DearJohn2

@FishSource Here is my take on @JohnSackton‘s views on #sustainability & Alaska #Hatchery salmon & SFP “racketeering “ and @MSCecolabel “travesty”

@SeafoodcomNews @Walmart ASMI acknowledged it was taking a “gamble” when leaving @MSCecolabel re. #Alaska #salmon & now… http://is.gd/DearJohn2

@SeafoodcomNews Are you really concerned about “conflicts of interest”; Wasn’t your June 20 editorial “sponsored by ASMI”?…

“@Seafood ComNews does itself or Alaska no favors by conflating a […] with scandalous assertions” Via @FishSource  goo.gl/XTAyC

Most #Alaska #salmon processors pulled out from @MSCecolabel; @Walmart has ‘bad news’ for them; #Hatchery impacts  http://is.gd/DearJohn2

@SeafoodcomNews Not everybody wants to believe solely what they’re told by state/industry http://is.gd/DearJohn2 #Alaska #HatcherySalmon

3 quotes from Gunnar Knapp et al (2007) ‘Great Salmon Run’ report: Full report (10Mb Pdf) : http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/people/knapp/personal/pubs/TRAFFIC/The_Great_Salmon_Run.pdf #HatcherySalmon

1) “Over time, some salmon farmers may respond to these criticisms by pointing out problems associated with wild salmon” #HatcherySalmon

2) “[…] not all Alaska salmon are fully “wild,” … environmental & market issues associated with hatchery salmon as well as farmed salmon”

3) “If this caused Alaska’s hatchery program to become a concern… it could…reduce political support within Alaska for hatchery program”

Sustainable Seafood Intelligence, News & Consultancy for Stakeholders of the Global Seafood, Fisheries & Aquaculture sectors with a focus on issues re. industry Transparency (#Top35Salmon #Top100Seafood), Economic, Social and Environment Sustainability, Ethics (#SeafoodEthics #SustainableSeafood #TransformSeafood #ResponsibleSeafood #SeafoodIntelligence), CSR/RSE & Politics… Perceptions of issues (negative & positive) impacting industry’s Social License to Operate (SLO) and acceptance. Farmed salmon & global seafood industry Sustainability Reporting benchmarks…. Multi-stakeholder sustainability thinking & analysis applied to seafood…