Talks Begin to Keep Alaska Seafood on Walmart Shelves

In the grocery section of a Walmart store in Anchorage, hard
by refrigerated units filled with frozen meat and poultry, is a smaller freezer
area displaying wild salmon fillets, the bulk of them labeled “product of
On Sept. 4, the offerings included packages of 1.75 pound
fillets, plus individual portions of skinless and skin-on fillets, labeled
“wild caught US,” “product of China,” and “MSC certified.”
The only wild Alaska seafood harvested and processed in
Alaska for sale in the freezer section were Copper River Seafoods’ portions of wild
sockeye and coho salmon, Pacific cod and halibut portions.
On a sidewalk bordering on the store that day, more than
four-dozen commercial fish harvesters and their supporters waved signs urging
Walmart to recognize the sustainability of Alaska fisheries and make more
Alaska seafood available to their retail customers, whether or not it bears the
MSC eco-label.
At issue is Marine Stewardship Council certification, which
Walmart executives have made a rule of thumb in purchasing salmon from Alaska.
MSC spokesman Mike DeCesare said that the commitment of
companies to the MSC certification program is strictly voluntary, and that MSC is
not involved in these current discussions.
John Renner, vice president of Cordova District Fishermen
United, said Walmart needs to recognize that consumers deserve the right to
choose sustainable American seafood. The fishermen, said Renner, want Walmart
as an advocate, rather than an adversary.
The demonstration at which Renner spoke came a day before
representatives for the state of Alaska, including the Alaska Seafood Marketing
Institute, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game met with senior executives
for Walmart and Sam’s Club at their corporate headquarters in Arkansas to
explain Alaska’s long-term commitment to sustainable fisheries. While Walmart
has not announced any policy changes yet on purchasing seafood, a company
spokesman said the meeting was a productive one and gave Walmart an opportunity
to learn about Alaska’s own fishery certification program.

Meanwhile the list of companies opting for the United
Nations Food and Agriculture based Responsible Fisheries Management
certification program sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute keeps
growing. The latest names added to the list include Alyeska Seafoods, Westward
Seafoods, Copper River Seafoods, E.C. Phillips and Son, Inc., Silver Bay
Seafoods LLC, Yukon Wild Inc., and Unisea Inc.