By Yereth Rosen and Eric M. Johnson
ANCHORAGE, Alaska/SEATTLE Sept 5 Alaska
officials lobbied Wal-Mart Stores Inc on Thursday to
keep selling the state's wild-caught salmon despite their
decision to drop an environmental certification label required
by the world's largest retailer.
Any decision on salmon by Wal-Mart, the largest food seller
in the United States, and by possibly other companies, could
ripple through the grocery industry and potentially harm
Alaska's fishing-dependant economy.
Alaskan fishing and policy officials met with buyers at
Wal-Mart's Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters on Thursday, in
an effort to convince the retailer their own internal regulatory
system should suffice, the company said.
"We are optimistic that Walmart will recognize Alaska
fisheries as sustainably managed," said Susan Bell, Commissioner
of Alaska's Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic
Development, who attended the meeting.
The issue emerged when roughly 40 salmon processors in the
far-North state decided in 2012 to drop the internationally
accepted blue ecolabel awarded by the London-based Marine
Stewardship Council (MSC), saying it was expensive and eroded
They said their own control systems were enough and they
would consider the Ireland-based Global Trust Certification, as
Other companies have embraced the MSC certification as a key
part of broad commitments they have made on sustainability.
Wal-Mart wrote a routine letter to its salmon suppliers in
June warning them it requires its salmon to be MSC-certified as
sustainable or working toward that distinction.
The meeting on Thursday covered monitoring and
sustainability practices, such as third-party oversight and
chain-of-custody reporting, and other issues, Wal-Mart spokesman
Chris Schraeder said.
"We're selling it in our stores today and we intend to carry
it well into the future," Schraeder said.
MSC-certified salmon is also largely favored by catering
services company Sodexo, which serves thousands of
American hospitals, schools, and military canteens, said Deborah
Hecker, vice president of sustainability at Sodexo.
Some concessionaires at U.S. national parks briefly dropped
the fish from their menus to comply with federal guidelines.
PRIZED STATE INDUSTRY
Walmart would not disclose how much Alaska salmon it buys or
sells in its stores, and did not have a specific date when it
would decide whether to accept Alaska's switch, Schraeder said.
Sodexo, which last year bought $22 million worth of Alaskan
seafood, said it had no plans to change its salmon policy.
The value of Alaska seafood retailed abroad and in the
United States was roughly $6.4 billion in 2011, according to
McDowell Group, Inc, a research firm contracted by the Alaska
Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), nearly all of whose members
More than 63,000 people worked in Alaska in seafood-industry
jobs in 2011, making it the state's largest private-sector
"What would be worrisome and very significant is if this
were to become the trend or, far worse, the rule," said Gunnar
Knapp, an economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage,
referring to other retailers possibly dropping salmon that does
not have the MRC seal.
MSC is an impartial non-profit that uses rigorous scientific
methods to broadly assess environmental impact and traceability,
said MSC spokesman Mike DeCesare.
Earning MSC's ecolabeling has cost Alaskan processors and
others millions of dollars per year, said Tyson Fick, a
spokesman for ASMI. Fick said MSC is the most prominent of the
roughly 170 ecolabels in the U.S. and abroad he knows of.
Dozens of fishermen picketed an Anchorage Walmart on
Wednesday, one waving a sign that read: "Buy American? Start
With Alaskan Salmon!"
Alaskan salmon fisheries were first certified in 2000 and
again in 2007. Processors opted-out in 2012. Some processors
maintained traceability certificates and a separate group of
companies has asked to be reassessed.