In 1996, Scott Blake, a fourth generation commercial fisherman, partnered with three Cordova, Alaska fishermen to establish Copper River Seafoods. The primary driver was to protect the fishermen of Alaska by ensuring the opportunities they had would be available for the next generations of Alaskan fishermen.
Today, Copper River Seafoods processes and sells seafood from nearly every region of Alaska and is one of the largest Alaskan-owned seafood processing companies in the state.
Over the years, there have been many external market threats to the sustainability of the company, one of the most significant being the issue of sustainability certification.
Sustainability certification has helped to raise consumer awareness for the fisheries improvements that are being made globally. However, it has also caused issues for model fisheries like Alaska by preventing market access for companies that choose to support state and federal fisheries management rather than paying to participate in an approved certification scheme.
Alaska’s fisheries were among the first to be Marine Stewardship Council certified because Alaska has always been widely regarded as the model for sustainability. Alaska’s fisheries are healthy, not because of certification, but rather because since 1959, the Alaska Constitution has mandated sustainability, putting sound science and enforcement before commercial interests.
Copper River Seafoods has supported both the MSC and the FAO-Based RFM models at the request of customers whose corporate sustainability policies required third-party assurance that Alaska’s fisheries were responsibly managed. Supporting both models and advocating for choice has always been important to Copper River Seafoods so no single certification would have control in the marketplace
The Alaska Salmon Fishery Public Comment Draft Report has caused a sea change at Copper River Seafoods. The report highlights the State of Alaska’s fisheries management practices including long-term data collection, focus on salmon escapement, and the knowledge and experience of the staff of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). Unfortunately, the report passes only 13 of the 14 Alaskan fishing areas, leaving Prince William Sound in assessment until additional information is gathered.
Scientists at the State of Alaska have been focused on Prince William Sound and the region is currently the focus of a $5 million Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG) long-term research plan to better address hatcheries in Alaska. This research will improve the State of Alaska’s understanding of the interactions between wild and hatchery stocks in Alaska and is part of the continuous fisheries improvement that sets Alaska apart.
Copper River Seafoods believes in choice, but cannot support a certification model that fails to certify all fisheries within a state that is a global model for sustainable fisheries management. Therefore, Copper River Seafoods plans to withdraw support for the MSC in 2014. If the MSC chooses to certify all of Alaska’s salmon fisheries, Copper River Seafoods will reassess whether MSC can again be a viable option for customers.
For customers that require third-party certification, Copper River Seafoods will continue to offer the FAO-Based RFM Certification.
Copper River Seafoods will continue to advocate for a choice of acceptable certifications for those buyers that demand third-party assurance, however this should not be interpreted as a fundamental lack of support for the State of Alaska, a model that ensures Alaska’s fisheries will be healthy and abundant for the next generation.