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MSC Hits Back To ASMI For “Negative And Inaccurate Statements” United States, September 30, 13

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has reacted to the recent announcement that the US General Administration will remove the need of third-party certification for purchasing food under government contracts from its guidelines. America’s largest retailer Wal-mart followed this by going into internal discussions about whether to drop its commitment to MSC seafood, after Alaskan salmon companies have moved to an alternative accreditation and pressured Wal-mart to accept this.

Kerry Coughlin, Regional Director for MSC
In an open letter about the statements that the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) made about MSC, Kerry Coughlin, Regional Director for MSC, said: “We greatly value the participation of Alaskan fisheries in the MSC program, and we have harbored hopes of resurrecting a cooperative and productive relationship with ASMI to support the Alaska fisheries that continue to choose MSC certification.”

“However, in the face of the escalating misinformation by ASMI, elected officials, and inaccurate and unsupported conclusions by John Sackton in particular in writing for the Seafood News and Undercurrents trade journals, MSC is compelled to speak out against the falsehoods regarding the MSC.”

Coughlin points to the September 24 US Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing on sustainable seafood certification as an example of a recent “biased and inaccurate” discussion about the MSC program. She states that MSC being excluded from the hearing suggests that the purpose was not to gather increased informative testimony, but to “posit a particular position based on misinformation.”

MSC outlines that it is particularly concerned that ASMI has launched a negative, misleading campaign against MSC and has called major retailers to question their support of its program.

While the Alaskan seafood industry has hit MSC with accusations of high costs, lack of transparency, meddling in fisheries management and inconsistent standards, Coughlin stresses that these allegations are false, and emphasizes that US Senators from Alaska have never been in contact with MSC to gather more information on its certification program.

MSC reacts to these comments by stating: “MSC is mission driven, nonprofit and by no means concerned with being a monopoly. Participation is voluntary, and we welcome alternative approaches and programs that support the objective of demonstrated and verified sustainability by the world’s commercial fisheries, as long as those efforts are credible.”

“The ASMI Responsible Fisheries Management program has been determined by independent benchmarking studies to be an industry developed and controlled program that falls far short of credible.”

Coughlin stresses that by rejecting independent certification of Alaskan or any US fisheries in favor of approaches that are industry self-reporting has the issue of being potentially damaging to the international image of Alaska as well the need for reliable certification in the global seafood market.

She follows shortly by pointing out that international markets have expressed a preference for a reliable world standard and are less inclined to adopt policies relying on regional and national self-developed claims of sustainability. MSC stresses in the letter that it is not foreign, and is globally recognized.

Suggestions that the MSC certification for a fishery is near to USD 2 million were also accusations highlighted by MSC in its reaction. Coughlin says: “MSC is not involved financially or otherwise in a contract between a fishery seeking assessment to the MSC standard and their selected independent accredited certifier who can deliver that service, charging only their time and expenses.”

She does however show her understanding that contracts can range from USD 25,000 to USD 175,000, dependent on the complexity of the fishery and the work required.

“In the case of the current statewide reassessment of the Alaska salmon fishery, the fishery qualifies for an MSC board-approved program for any fishery in its third assessment that, for Alaskan salmon, is covering 75 percent of the assessment costs.”

MSC closes the statement by displaying a wish for Alaskan seafood companies to question why ASMI is spending millions of dollars to market itself as fighting MSC, “a voluntary program that costs a fraction of a penny on the pound with more than 92 percent of logo use fees on products promoting Alaska salmon being paid for by European buyers who pay well for MSC-certified seafood.”

Coughlin poses the question: “In fighting MSC, what does Alaska fear or have to hide?”