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Wal-Mart, state hash out sustainability of Alaska salmon

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Despite a months-long standoff between Alaska and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over questions about the sustainability of Alaska seafood, all sides were saying nice things Wednesday after two days of meetings in Juneau between a team of executives from the giant retailer and state officials.

"We want to make sure that any cloud that comes over Alaska and the sustainability of our fisheries, we want to address that immediately," said Susan Bell, commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

She said she was "very optimistic" that Wal-Mart would agree that Alaska's seafood was sustainable and would continue to carry it.

At stake: Access to Wal-Mart's 4,000 stores in the United States, which currently get 97 percent of their salmon from Alaska fishermen.

The dispute: Alaska processors dropped sustainability certification from the private Marine Stewardship Council in favor of the Responsible Fisheries Management certification from the state's Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

That threatened access to Wal-Mart stores, as the company did not recognize the new Alaska certification. ASMI's Tyson Fick said after the Wal-Mart meetings that the company appeared convinced that Alaska's RFM certification would be acceptable.

Much of the discussion involved showing Wal-Mart that a third-party certifier could say with authority that Alaska was really doing what it claimed it was doing about sustainable fisheries.

"There's really no question about the sustainability of Alaska fisheries management," he said.

The Alaska team, which at various times has included Gov. Sean Parnell as well, is confident it can answer the company's remaining questions, Fick and Bell said.

A statement issued by Wal-Mart late Wednesday appeared to agree.

"Wal-Mart remains committed to buying Alaska seafood, and we’re excited that ASMI has agreed to work with us to ensure the RFM standard meets the principles for credible sustainable fisheries programs," said David Baskin, vice president for meat and seafood, in the company's statement.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com