The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Alaska Seafood

Sustainability Series: Alaska Seafood

Sustainability

March 29, 2009

With over 34,000 miles of coastline and thousands of people involved in the fishing industry, the State of Alaska is the world’s leading wild, sustainable fishery. Over half of the wild seafood harvested in the U.S., including salmon, crab, halibut, and a wide variety of other fish and shellfish, comes from Alaska, where sustainable fishing practices have been used for 50 years. We spoke to Larry Andrews, Retail Marketing Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), about Alaska’s sustainable management of one of their most important natural resources.

How does Alaska define sustainability?

Many think of sustainability as a relatively recent phenomenon, but Alaska has been practicing the sustainable management of its resources for the past five decades. Since the territory became a state in 1959, its Constitution has mandated that ‘fish … shall be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle’ – making Alaska the first and (still the) only state in the U.S. to have written such conservation language into its basic founding principles. This dedication has resulted in an ever-replenishing supply of wild seafood for markets around the world.

Specifically, sustainability as it pertains to Alaska seafood means that our fisheries can exist long-term without compromising the survival of the species or the health of the surrounding ecosystem. First and foremost, Alaska takes a precautionary approach to ensure the needs of the stocks and the ecosystem are met, as protecting the future of both takes priority over opportunities for commercial harvest.

All Alaska seafood is wild, and all of it is sustainable. 

How is Alaska incorporating sustainable practices into fisheries management?

Alaska has a unique ‘checks and balances’ system in place to ensure a clear separation between conservation and allocation. The state’s major fisheries (salmon, groundfish, halibut and crab) are managed by several different agencies of the state or federal government. Within each fishery, different entities are responsible for scientific research, enforcement and allocation. No single agency has complete authority; they work in collaboration. This is one of the strengths of the Alaska fisheries management system. 

Other practices that Alaska has successfully implemented include bycatch reduction, habitat protection, in-season management, enforcement and transparency, firm harvest quota (or Total Allowable Catch limits), and reliance on the best available science.

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Alaska’s goal is to continue to allow maximum sustainable yield without compromising environmental and economic integrity. By proactively ensuring a healthy, wild and sustainable harvest, Alaska has helped to preserve and protect its superior seafood for future generations. 

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Alaska's principles of science-based management and putting the ecosystem and needs of the stocks first are certainly impacting the way fisheries are run. This is going to be critical globally, as others begin to work to rebuild wild stocks, and domestically, as fisheries work to align with the Magnuson Stevens Act – the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the U.S.

We also want to continue educating consumers about how to identify sustainable seafood so that they can rely on proven principles versus relying on NGOs or eco-labels.

How do you measure your progress?

Alaska’s robust fishing and seafood industry employs more people than any other industry in Alaska, and provides not only income but also a way of life for many families in the state. Additionally, no species of Alaska seafood has ever been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. 

Testament to Alaska’s leadership in sustainable seafood is our proven track record in effective resource management, reliance upon the latest scientific research, and conformance to relevant international standards, notably those of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

We work with retailers to carry the Alaska seafood story to consumers, as they are the source for information that the consumer looks to. The person behind the seafood counter at the grocery store is viewed as the expert, so the better informed they are the better informed the consumer. Research suggests that consumers view their seafood sales person as the most credible/knowledgeable source for information about seafood. This makes getting our message to retailers essential.

We also work closely with retailers on sustainability education. We understand that consumers rely on their retailers more and more to select and sell sustainable seafood. We do a great deal of education and outreach with retailers so that they can understand what makes Alaska's fisheries a model to use when analyzing the level of sustainability for other non-Alaska seafood. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

In our case, we are stewards of a prized, natural resource – Alaska seafood. We, and other food suppliers, need to be custodians of all of our food-producing resources to preserve them for future generations. Many of the choices we make today have a long-range impact on the environmental, economic and social situations throughout the supply chain. Consumer product demands impact harvesting, food processing, distribution, waste management, packaging, food safety and health, environmental labeling, and product development in both food retailing and food service. We need to be sources of both good nutrition and good business practices. 
 
Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumer interest in and preference for sustainable food products has increased dramatically in recognition of the importance of responsible resource use. Consumers themselves are stepping up, and more and more companies are discovering a business case for sustainability. Governments, like the State of Alaska, are supporting green practices. There’s a shared sense of environmental responsibility among all of us and consumers understand that being educated about sustainable practices is part of their role.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom atallison@foodnutritionscience.com.