Researchers from Wild Fish Conservancy, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Montana are proposing an alternative framework for certifying wild salmon. The alternative is explained in a paper published in journal FACETS, by Canadian Science Publishing, titled “Criteria for a good catch: A conceptual framework to guide sourcing of sustainable salmon fisheries”.
The uniqueness of each river, and the salmon that return to it, drive this place-based management. This criteria can replace the conventional fisheries that have failed to manage salmon sustainably. Tweet This!
The new framework is grounded in the place-based concept of salmon management. This place-based foundation recognizes the ecological inter-dependance between wild salmon and the natal watersheds where they spawn, rear and to which they are locally adapted.
The proposed new framework for identifying sustainably harvested salmon suggests that individual retailers develop criteria (or adopt others) that comply with this place-based foundation. Patagonia Provisions, for example, is one retailer requesting this high standard of certification because their customers want higher standards than are currently available.
“Open ocean, mixed-stock salmon fisheries are a major cause of the coast-wide loss of wild salmon populations and the failure of many populations to rebuild or recover from their currently depleted state,” said Nick Gayeski, the study’s lead author and scientist with the Wild Fish Conservancy.
Place-based salmon harvesting lets the consumer know how, and where, specifically, each salmon was caught. Consumers want this level of sustainability and accountability.”
Gayeski N, MacDuffee M, and Stanford JA. 2018. Criteria for a good catch: A conceptual framework to guide sourcing of sustainable salmon fisheries. FACETS 3: 300–314. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2016-0078
The identification of sustainably managed fisheries is problematic for marketers and consumers of Pacific salmon food products owing to lack of well-defined and robust criteria that take into account current ecosystem science of salmon. We present the rationale for an alternative conceptual framework for salmon management that supports the development of sustainable sourcing criteria. Our approach contrasts with current large-scale fisheries certification programs such as that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and general consumer recommendation services such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (SFW) program. Our framework is based on the “place-based” character of salmon populations and recognition of fundamental aspects of salmon ecology, particularly the evolution of population life histories that are locally adapted to freshwater spawning and rearing habitats. We describe how this framework underpins development of science-based sourcing criteria and how it differs in important respects from the industrial approach that historically and currently is the basis for most salmon management. We conclude with a discussion of how the framework and its application may provide a model for redirecting salmon management, in general, towards a more science- and place-based approach and why that is likely to be sustainable in the long term in a way that most contemporary salmon management is not.
The past two decades have seen increased desire by consumers in western countries to eat more natural, healthy foods and to support practices that provide such foods in a manner judged to be “sustainable”, i.e., products derived from ecosystem services deemed demonstrably viable over the long term (decades to centuries). This has led to the development of certification bodies that review and certify (or not) retail products and brands as produced from sustainable sources (for example, organically grown produce). Marine finfish and shellfish products, in particular, necessitate public resource management to address sustainable harvest. In the case of Pacific salmon, hatchery practices and the persistence of salmon for wildlife and ecosystem benefits are also considerations for fisheries sustainability.
The most prominent fisheries certification body is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that uses independent third-party certification bodies to evaluate candidate fisheries. Less formally, the Seafood Watch (SFW) program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium reviews fishery practices and provides consumers with reports and general categories (red, yellow, green) of seafood products intended to help them identify products from sustainably managed fisheries. Concerns have been raised over the relatively large scale and rising cost of MSC certifications. In addition, controversies have arisen regarding the independence and accuracy of sustainability assessments (Jacquet and Pauly 2007; Christian et al. 2013; Kirby et al. 2014). Indeed, the MSC process has blanket-certified all five species of Pacific salmon caught in Alaska marine waters as sustainably harvested, even though hundreds of place-based stocks are involved, each with local environmental controls on production as well as highly variable stakeholder interests (e.g., many Alaskan-caught and -labelled Chinook, sockeye, and chum can have natal origins in watersheds of western Canada and the lower west coast of the US). The real and long-term impact of mixed-stock ocean fisheries on local (place-based) populations therefore is lost, or at least compromised, in this kind of wide-ranging certification process, and some of these populations are not being sustained (e.g., populations within BC pink and chum Certification Units and within BC’s Fraser sockeye Certification Unit, see Price et al. 2017).
A complementary, if not alternative, approach to large-scale certification is for retailers to develop their own sustainable sourcing criteria to guide their acquisition of raw or processed food products that they package or further process for direct sale to consumers. Development and application of self-determined criteria that are rooted in salmon ecology have the potential to result in a more rigorous evaluation of sustainability. This is because the retailer assumes responsibility for its claim that the fishery is sustainably managed.
The outdoor retail clothing company Patagonia has recently developed a consumer food products line known as Provisions. An important initial food item for the program is packaged smoked sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka (Walbaum in Artedi, 1792)) and pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha (Walbaum, 1792)). The program seeks to accomplish two related objectives with its salmon product sourcing. First, it aims to acquire premium salmon products from fisheries that harvest wild, naturally reproducing salmon in a sustainable manner. Second, it seeks to support salmon fisheries that provide models of local, place-based fisheries that contrast with the majority of large-scale, mixed-stock salmon fisheries on the west coast of the US and Canada. Patagonia wants its salmon sourcing criteria to reflect maintenance of local social values in addition to sound science regarding salmon ecology and fisheries management. To assist Patagonia, we developed over-arching criteria for sourcing wild salmon products with a view that these self-imposed criteria could serve as a well-defined and robust complement to existing certification programs. This approach could also increase return on investment for other retailers that choose to provide high-quality, sustainable salmon products derived from robust criteria.
Salmon sourcing and framework criteria are based on the recognition that (1) wild salmon are locally adapted to the rivers and streams in which adults spawn and juveniles rear and (2) that abundant spawning and rearing salmon support numerous ecological functions (e.g., wildlife benefits, carcass fertilization to streams, etc.) that must be maintained to maintain the health of the salmon populations themselves. This makes salmon populations “place-based”, a response to and reflection of the local habitat and environmental conditions with which they have evolved and to which they are (locally) adapted. We argue that the place-based nature of salmon populations requires that the management of salmon harvest be appropriately place-based as well. Thus, we based our sourcing criteria on this fundamental attribute of wild salmon populations and its significance to Pacific salmon ecology and management. The place-based criteria are listed in Box 1 and discussed in the Criteria for Sustainable Sourcing section.
The authors wish to thank Dr. Carol Ann Woody, Center for Science in Public Participation; Matthew Stoecker, Stoecker Ecological; and Jamie Glasgow, Director of Science and Research, Wild Fish Conservancy, for comments on earlier versions of the sourcing criteria for Patagonia that greatly improved the substance and form of that document and helped us to clarify many of the issues developed in this paper. We are also grateful to Jim Lichatowich for numerous informative discussions regarding salmon fisheries management, sustainability, and the importance of conceptual foundations for providing clear priorities and guidance of management actions.
Wild Fish Conservancy, Duvall, WA, USA
Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, BC, Canada
Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana, MT, USA
Jack A. Stanford