Murkowski Sustainability Fight Gets Major Change in Guidelines

Third-Party Alaska Salmon Adversaries Removed From Federal Operation Guide Altogether

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has wiped the names of controversial outside groups that decline to consider Wild Alaska salmon as ‘sustainable’ – when Alaska is the only state to have a sustainability mandate written in its Constitution and salmon known as “the flagship species for sustainability around the world” – from its concessions guidelines after a half-year struggle by Senator Lisa Murkowski.  In a recent letter (attached) from a GSA Assistant Commissioner, the official writes to Senator Murkowski that the agency agrees, and that “American managed fisheries do not require third-party certification to demonstrate responsible and sustainable practices.”

The federal government’s internal rules explicitly state “the government does not endorse any particular labeling or documentation system or program over another.”  Despite this, the National Park Service and other government agencies had begun to consult earlier this year with questionable groups like the Marine Stewardship Council to certify whether wild Alaska salmon is ‘sustainable’ – dubbed “a high-priced eco-endorsement” by the Alaska press, due to the fees involved in this label.  But after a strenuous campaign of letters, hearings and proposed legislation from Murkowski, the GSA has reconsidered this dubious (and unnecessary) relationship and removed the third-party groups names from its internal rules.

In the GSA’s Concession Sustainability Guidelines released in July (also attached), it read:

  • THEN- Only offer fish/seafood identified as “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch List or certified by Marine Stewardship Council (or equivalent program).

A recent revision to the same GSA guidelines reads very differently, now saying:

  • NOW- Where seafood options are offered, provide those procured from responsibly managed, sustainable healthy fisheries.

“Alaska has a sustainability mandate written in our Constitution and we take our fisheries management pretty seriously.  At the federal level, NOAA is the agency with expertise on confirming fisheries sustainability, and it was disturbing to me that they were not involved in the development of the GSA or the Park Service guidelines,” said Senator Murkowski.  “The revised guidelines on sustainability are a simple-but-significant improvement, and I appreciate the GSA making this change.”

BACKGROUNDER: Murkowski initially urged the federal government to reconsider utilizing third parties in July, followed that up with a tense Senate committee hearing days later where she was able to have the National Park Service reverse course.  In September, she introduced legislation to prohibit federal agencies from ignoring their own internal rules and using third party non-governmental certification schemes when considering or labeling any domestic catch as ‘sustainable.’  Amid this ongoing battle over sustainability and rising scrutiny, the regional director of the Marine Stewardship Council resigned earlier this month.