Here’s Why Wal-Mart and Alaskan Officials Are in a Fishy Situation

Alaska

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) isn’t happy that Alaskan fishermen have decided to drop an environmental certification label on their state’s wild-caught salmon, and the retail giant is showing its dissatisfaction by threatening to discontinue the product at its retail stores. This warning has sparked the concern of Alaskan fishermen everywhere, and the state’s fishing and policy officials demonstrated that worry by meeting with buyers at Wal-Mart’s headquarters Thursday, pleading their case.

Reuters reported that policy officials met with Wal-Mart buyers this week and worked to convince them that the state’s own internal regulatory system was enough to replace the certification label the fishermen recently dropped. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company requires the internationally accepted blue ecolabel, awarded by the London-based Marine Steward Council, but close to 40 salmon processors in Alaska decided to drop the label in 2012 on reports that it was expensive and unnecessary.

These processors think their own control systems are enough, but Wal-Mart doesn’t agree. The company warned suppliers in June that it strictly requires MSC-certified salmon, so now Alaskan processors are running the risk of losing the business of the world’s largest retailer. Reuters said this decision has far-reaching effects because Alaska may not only lose Wal-Mart as a client but also the other grocers who largely follow the retail giant’s lead.

Consumers now recognize how significantly these changes could harm the the state’s fishing-dependent economy, and fisherman have already started picketing outside of Anchorage Wal-Mart stores with signs that argue: “Buy American? Start With Alaskan Salmon!”

Since Wal-Mart’s meeting with policy officials Thursday, it is still unclear what the retailer will decide and whether Alaska’s representatives convinced the company the state’s own monitoring and sustainability practices are sufficient. Wal-Mart spokesman Chris Schraeder maintained that the store has yet to set a specific date when it would decide to accept Alaska’s switch, and, according to Reuters, he maintained, “We’re selling it in our stores today and we intend to carry it well into the future.”

Hopefully for Alaska’s sake, that remains true. According to McDowell Group, a research firm Reuters said was contracted by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the seafood industry is the state’s largest private-sector employer, employing more than 63,000 people in 2011. In addition, the value of Alaska seafood sold abroad and in the U.S. was close to $6.4 billion in 2011; if Wal-Mart drops the seafood and other major grocers then follow suit, the state’s economy could be in serious trouble.

It is at least clear that one party will need to compromise. The last time the state’s salmon fishers were certified was in 2007, and processors opted out in 2012. Some believe that suppliers will be forced to opt back in if Wal-Mart continues to stand its ground, but the future is still unclear.

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