I’m not sure if you heard the news, but back in October 2019, an organization representing the larger seafood companies in BC announced that they were voluntarily withdrawing from the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) sustainable fisheries certification program for sockeye, chum, and pink salmon. This means that sockeye, chum, and pink salmon caught in BC in 2020 will not carry MSC or Ocean Wise labels.

What Does This Mean For Sustainable Salmon?

When we first learned about this, we were obviously concerned! While the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) places conservation as its top priority above all else, we still trust and rely heavily on MSC and Ocean Wise to help us ensure that the seafood we are harvesting is truly sustainable Canadian seafood. If they couldn’t vouch for the sustainability of these species, then we had to ask ourselves if we should even be offering sockeye, chum, and pink salmon to our members this year. It was time for us to take a closer look.

“Does this mean I won’t be able to get sockeye, chum, and pink salmon from Skipper Otto this year?!”

Don’t worry, you WILL be able to get these species from us this year and it’s important that you understand how we confidently concluded, that we could harvest SOME sockeye, chum, and pink salmon this year.

The First Step in Our Research

The first thing we decided, was that we needed to talk to everyone we could think of who might have further information or opinions on the situation. We hired Jeff Scott, MSc, a long-time distribution team member, to act as our Sustainable Fisheries Researcher to help us come up with a decision-making strategy around these fisheries for 2020. And for the next several months, we poured our energy into it. We talked to Christina Burridge who represents the organization which had held the MSC certificate and who voluntarily withdrew from the program. We spoke to representatives from MSC and Ocean Wise, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, as well as a number of researchers, academics, and environmental NGOs. We wanted to get as broad an understanding of the topic as possible.

Run-By-Run Considerations

Our suspicion was that some salmon runs would actually meet MSC’s criteria if an organization had the resources to apply MSC criteria specifically to individual runs rather than to a salmon species as a whole. You see, most seafood retailers can’t provide the kind of granular details that we can about exactly where their seafood comes from, nor do they work directly with fishermen to fish in a specific area to avoid certain runs. But we can and always have operated on that level of detail. To test our hypothesis, we used MSC’s own criteria alongside publicly available data and expert opinions to develop a way of looking at the sustainability of potential sources of salmon in BC on a run-by-run basis. The result of all our hard work is that we’ve developed a Sustainability Sourcing Strategy to help us make in-season decisions on a week-by-week basis about which specific sockeye, pink, and chum salmon runs we feel are sustainable. And, because we value complete transparency, you can read our full document here.

Supporting Our Sustainable Salmon Fishermen

To be clear, we’re a small organization with a small team and a previously non-existent research budget. We’re certainly not attempting to replicate the important work of organizations like MSC and Ocean Wise. And the work that we’ve done was only possible because of the pre-existing, long-standing hard work and support of those organizations. Our work is intended to be a stop-gap while we wait to see if sockeye, chum, and pink salmon will become re-certified in the coming years under MSC. In the meantime, it is critical that our small-scale BC fishing fleet stays afloat, especially now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic when most harvesters have lost their foreign and restaurant markets. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that we are building robust local food systems that can feed our families when global food systems are under threat.

And so, with the salmon fishing season right around the corner, we feel confident in our plans to offer you access to sockeye, chum, and pink salmon from specific runs, which we feel mirror MSC’s criteria for sustainability. We can’t wait to share the first taste of the salmon season with you. And as always, let us know what you think!

Sonia - June 15, 2020

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Sustainable Salmon in 2020

Sonia - June 15, 2020

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