Salmon Sourcing Strategy 2021

Jeff and Sonia - May 14, 2021

Early last year, before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic had begun to affect BC’s seafood industry in unprecedented ways, we at Skipper Otto already had a challenge on our hands. After years of proudly selling OceanWise recommended sockeye, chum, and pink salmon, we found ourselves reeling from a sudden change. When the industry body responsible for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of those species’ fisheries opted to pull out of the program, OceanWise also removed BC sockeye, chum, and pink salmon from their list of recommended seafood, leaving three species of our salmon without third-party recommendations. We knew that nothing about these fisheries’ ecological sustainability had changed overnight, and OceanWise notably kept the species off their “Not Recommended” list. So, what were we to make of this fishy state of limbo?

We always need to be confident that the fish our hard-working independent fishermen catch for our members is sustainably managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and we rely heavily on third party watch-dogs like MSC and OceanWise to help verify this. Without their oversight of these species, we decided to do some research. Having worked as part of the Skipper Otto distribution team for a few years already, I began my new role as Sustainable Fisheries Researcher last January, poring over MSC’s assessment reports and tracking down experts for their thoughts on the matter. Sonia and I spoke with managers at DFO and MSC, as well as scientists from UBC, environmental non-profits, and private consultancies. We heard a variety of perspectives on the state of salmon management in BC, and concluded that, overall, we could be reasonably confident in DFO’s commitment to commercial fisheries that avoid threatened stocks.

We thought, though, that we could be more precise. After all, we have a healthy obsession with transparency here—we know exactly where our fishermen set their salmon gillnets, and when. So why not set our own internal guidelines for which salmon runs we feel comfortable buying from? Using a limited amount of publicly available data, and the opinions of the experts we talked to, I devised a quick-and-dirty guide to some of the salmon runs Skipper Otto’s fishermen traditionally harvest from. This guide, laid out in our Salmon Sourcing Strategy for 2020, offered my best interpretations of how well each salmon run fared against certain MSC criteria (for a full description of the MSC assessment process and issues surrounding the loss of MSC certification, feel free to read through our full document). I identified a handful of runs we should avoid, a handful we definitely should target, and many that we could be comfortable with despite some concerns. This guide helped inform our buying decisions in 2020.

BC is a big province, though, with hundreds of distinct salmon populations ranging in health from abundant to critically endangered. And despite the effort we put in to ensure that we’re not contributing to the unsustainable harvest of our salmon, we’re not MSC, and we’re not OceanWise; we simply don’t have the resources as a small-but-growing company to conduct a comprehensive review of DFO’s salmon management of every distinct population every year. Instead, based on our research, we’re going start with the assumption that, for all its imperfections, DFO is doing a reasonably good job at managing salmon fisheries. Rather than delve into the details of each and every salmon stock on the coast, we’re going to rely upon the many dedicated watchdogs who have the best interest of the fish at heart. For every opportunity we have to source salmon from a given location on the coast, we will watch and listen closely for any objections from First Nations, conservation groups, academics, and others, and we will investigate those concerns. After considering the evidence and weighing the potential risks to conservation, we’ll then decide if we’re comfortable sourcing from that fishery, or if we’d rather be safe than sorry. We feel this case-by-case approach is a better use of our limited resources and will give us a better sense of which salmon management issues are most important to the First Nations, coastal communities, and other concerned citizens of BC.

This includes you! Our members have always been concerned with the sustainable management of BC’s marine resources—it’s the primary reason why many of you joined us in the first place. If you have a specific concern about any potential salmon fishing opportunities this year, please let us know!

Jeff and Sonia - May 14, 2021


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Salmon Sourcing Strategy 2021

Jeff and Sonia - May 14, 2021

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