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MSC Tuna’s Future In The US Could Rest On Wal-Mart’s Alaskan Salmon Decision

This week saw the US General Services Administration update its guidelines and decide to remove the need of a third-party certification for purchasing food under government contracts. The previous recommendation in the guidelines was that any seafood purchased by the US market should always have the MSC certification.

The change will allow for the US to purchase seafood for the feds, like the Department of Defense and National Parks without an eco-label to state that the fish was caught and processed sustainably.

This could have a substantial impact on the future of MSC certified tuna and other wild seafood in the American market.

In 2011, the largest retailer in the US and across the globe, Wal-Mart vowed to only buy seafood that was certified as sustainable by MSC.

This year, most of the Alaskan salmon industry moved to a new certification program called Global trust. Previously, Alaskan salmon had held the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification since 2000, and has been an important product for Wal-Mart.

After dropping MSC and switching to an alternative program, the Alaskan salmon industry hoped Wal-Mart would recognize other certifications. The issue gained attention when Wal-Mart made the decision to announce that it may stop the purchase of Alaskan salmon to sell in its stores. 

Alaskan Senator, Mark Begich has been critical of Wal-Mart over certification and criticized MSC’s increasing cost for logo fees and inconsistent standards. In fact, Alaska wants all US fisheries to be recognized as sustainable without the need of a third-party certification.

Begich expressed the wish of the Alaskan state to enter into a system in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will verify that seafood is sustainable within the US. John Connelly, National Fisheries Institute president said: “Congress should require NOAA to develop an integrated communications strategy that describes in lay terms how the government manages our nation’s fisheries resources.”

Now that the General Services Administration has dropped its guidelines surrounding the purchase of MSC seafood, the question is posed as to whether the nation’s largest retailer will go back on its commitment and allow the purchase of Alaskan salmon not certified by MSC.

US Senator, Lisa Murdowski, representing Alaska stressed that the state will continue with efforts to eradicate the “pay to play” system that currently exists. A Wal-Mart senior director of sustainability said that the company will be reviewing its policy and will come to a quick decision.

If this giant global retailer announces plans to drop its commitment to the MSC certification and continue to sell Alaskan salmon, this could possibly have major repercussions for MSC’s image in the US, and the seafoods which carry its logo.  It could also affect the future development of MSC tuna, fresh, frozen or canned in the US market. The country’s two albacore tuna fisheries are both MSC certified, and the US Big three tuna brands had recently committed, through the ISSF, to switch their tuna by latest 2017 to MSC.

If Wal-Mart, as the largest retailer in the US,  would make the decision to drop its pledge to only sell domestic seafood that is MSC certified, concerns will also be prompted surrounding the use of domestically caught sustainable MSC albacore tuna. If it decides to market sustainable seafood without third-party certification, those trying to stop the expansion of the MSC logo within the American market will gain more leverage, and likely erode the advantages of those who hold the certification.