Mark Vinsel usually buys Alaskan when he picks up canned pink salmon from Juneau grocery stores. But one day last year, Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska...
JUNEAU Mark Vinsel usually buys Alaskan when he picks up canned pink salmon from Juneau grocery stores.
But one day last year, Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, accidentally bought a 6-ounce Bumble Bee can labeled as a product of Thailand.
When he investigated the can’s product code on Bumble Bee’s Web site, Vinsel learned the salmon was from Russia and was canned in Mexico.
This month, Vinsel and other Alaskans are waging a last-ditch attempt to persuade the federal government to require seafood retailers and suppliers to accurately label the country of origin and method of production for canned and smoked salmon.
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Canned salmon accounts for 40 percent to 45 percent of the value and the volume of Alaska’s annual seafood harvest, according to the McDowell Group consulting firm in Juneau.
Labeling those cans could boost Alaska’s fishing industry because consumers are now enlightened about the differences between farmed fish and wild-caught salmon, said Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United.
About two years ago, one Cordova processor pulled up stakes after losing its canned pink contract with Costco and Sam’s Club to a Chilean farmed-fish venture, McCune said. “It took a big chunk of our market away,” McCune said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an interim final rule on Sept. 30 requiring country-of-origin and method-of-production labeling for farm-raised and wild-caught fish and shellfish sold in U.S. markets beginning in April.
Though the rule is fiercely contested by some seafood industry organizations, it has received broad support from the public. More than 5,600 individuals commented on the initial version of the rule.
Many lauded it for providing consumers informed choice about the origin of seafood and the labor force producing it.
But the rule was modified before its publication in the Federal Register to exclude canned, smoked and other processed fish. USDA could make further revisions before labeling begins and will take public comments through Jan. 3.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Fisheries Institute said it opposes the interim rule because it will raise the cost of imported seafood and could induce retaliatory measures by other countries against U.S. exports.
USDA expects the rule to cause a price increase of less than two-tenths of a cent per pound for affected products. It also could cause exports to decrease and revenues for the U.S. fish industry to fall by $4 million.
For compliance, seafood suppliers and retailers must keep a one-year paper trail for their fish and shellfish.
Violators could be fined up to $10,000.