An article in the June 27th edition of Seafood News prompted the following response from SFP.

Dear Editor,

In Seafood News of 27 June a number of assertions were made regarding Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and our involvement in current debates around the management of wild salmon stocks (‘Walmart threatens to drop American salmon this summer unless Alaska processors publicly embrace SFP’ and ‘Could SFP become a danger to American Fisheries Management’). These articles consisted of ‘reporting’ and ‘editorial’ although the tone of the two pieces was not significantly different. 

The pieces touched on many issues, three of which are specific to SFP and that we will respond to here. Firstly, SFP has opinions regarding the management of Alaskan salmon which are at odds with those held by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) and Mr John Sackton of Seafood News, and that we have ignored information presented to us.  Secondly, that SFP is engaging in the promotion of FIPs in order to gain financial revenue for itself. And thirdly, that our actions are somehow damaging American fisheries management systems. 

On the first point we would simply say that there are genuine differences of opinion regarding the management of Alaskan salmon and we expect those differences to be aired robustly and publicly. We have no quarrel with Seafood News in this regard. We refute though that we ignored any information presented to us by ASMI or anyone else. We note that discussion and debate on the potential risks to wild salmon from hatcheries has been underway in Alaska since at least 1975, when the state adopted an interim genetics policy.

Alaskan managers and scientists have published dozens of papers and reports in this debate.  We carefully reviewed and researched all the information presented, and all of our work and findings regarding Alaska salmon fisheries are in the public domain. We stand by our conclusion that Alaska needs to do more to demonstrate hatcheries in Prince William Sound are not damaging wild salmon runs, and that they should at a minimum freeze hatchery production at current levels until either conclusive evidence is available showing no impact, or management measures have been implemented to reduce and detect impacts.  Given the time needed for research programs to generate results, and findings of recent studies showing straying rates beyond all published management thresholds, an argument could be made for taking more precautionary management measures now.   

Simply stated, the precautionary approach requires conservative management in the face of uncertainty, and places the burden of proof on those activities that pose a risk.  In the case of salmon and hatcheries, this means demonstrating that hatchery operations are not adversely affecting wild salmon (and not, as some have argued, proving definitively that hatcheries are negatively impacting wild salmon before taking action). On the second point, that we create improvement projects to benefit ourselves financially and engage in ‘racketeering’, we strongly object and wish to make certain points clear for the benefit of Seafood News readers who have been gravely misled. SFP has never sought leadership of fishery improvement projects (FIPs) for financial gain. Our entire model is to catalyse ‘industry-led’ FIPs and not be involved in such projects ourselves. We developed the FIP concept and ran many FIPs to demonstrate the approach could work. As FIPs became better understood and established, we encouraged industry to take them over, and we now run few of those remaining original FIPs.

We provide a FIP Toolkit and other resources and advice for parties seeking to run their own FIPs.  Regarding new FIPs, the ones we are willing to lead temporarily are those where local industry, scientists and managers simply do not have the capacity to run a FIP themselves. And in those cases, a key FIP activity is to organize and develop such capacity as soon as possible, so SFP can step aside and turn our attentions to helping other fisheries. Contrary to the misleading reporting by Seafood News, many fisheries and other institutions are running successful FIPs and publicly reporting their workplans, commitments and progress.

We have publicly communicated this position to many significant players within the US seafood industry on numerous occasions and it is a matter of public record. Your account of the meeting between ASMI and SFP in Boston is inaccurate.  It is a matter of regret that the ASMI representative quoted failed to inform you of all the facts, especially that SFP stated clearly that they would have no role in an Alaskan salmon FIP and sought no payments or involvement whatsoever. The entire thrust of our work has been to persuade ASMI or Alaskan seafood producers working individually or together to acknowledge the need for improvements, and then on their own work with the relevant authorities through existing management systems to see those improvements delivered. We ask the suppliers simply publicly report the plans, commitments and progress clearly so that their customers can judge whether progress is or will be sufficient, and this reporting has been the focus of our discussions with ASMI. We were clear that we did not care whether they called this a FIP, or something else of their choosing. 

We noted to ASMI, and repeat here, that no additional improvement activities would even be required, if they clearly and credibly supported their claim that existing planned research and management actions would lead to hatchery impacts being understood and addressed within a few years, and that management will be precautionary in the interim. Thus there is a clear option that would allow Alaska salmon producers, collectively through ASMI or individually, to address key customers’ sustainability objectives and continue to sell them salmon in the interim. This option remains open to ASMI or any individual Alaskan salmon producer, and the real question here is why they reject it. Thirdly, regarding a “negative” impact on fisheries management.

Customers for any product have a legitimate right to question how it is produced and the management systems used, to ask for improvements if they have concerns, and to stop buying if those concerns are not addressed. And NGOs, producers, marketing groups, the public and media all legitimately try and shape the views of these customers. This is understood and accepted in most other industries around the world, whether the product is meat, fruit, coffee, clothes or sports shoes. It’s up to the producers to decide whether or not to meet their customer requirements, but it’s ridiculous to suggest the customers are somehow undermining management systems simply by expressing their legitimate preference and deciding whether to buy or not.

Most customers would prefer their suppliers engage with the management system on their behalf, but when that fails, customers face the decision of engaging directly in established management processes or walking away. Many fisheries around the world have engaged proactively and positively with their customers to find mutually acceptable solutions, and we hope Alaska’s salmon producers will also. We welcome honest debate about fisheries management and we expect there to be disagreements and fiercely expressed opinions. But Seafood News does itself or Alaska no favors by conflating a disagreement over a narrow fishery management issue with scandalous assertions that have no basis in fact.  

Yours sincerely, 

Jim Cannon

CEO, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership