A Sustainable Catch

If you’re like most people, you know Alaska for its snow-covered mountains, glaciers that date back millions of years, and the incredible wildlife. However, did you know that Alaska is also a world model for sustainability? That’s because Alaska is the only state with a mandate for sustainable seafood written right into its State Constitution.

The sustainable seafood movement is sweeping across the world, and more and more people are taking interest. But what does all this talk about sustainability really mean? And what impact does your choice for dinner have on the world around you?

Click here to flip through the Alaska Seafood Sustainability In Plain English guide. In just minutes, you can learn how to make a smart, sustainable seafood choice – every time.

Sustainability in Plain English E-Book

Sustainability & Communities

What does sustainable seafood really mean?

Sustainable seafood is caught in such a way that guarantees the long-term health and abundance of our oceans’ bounty. In Alaska, we take sustainability seriously, that’s why when we became a state in 1959 we wrote into our constitution that “fish…be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle.” In practice that means that all interests – fisherman, scientists and citizens – work together to determine how to responsibly manage our fisheries so that there will always be an abundance of seafood to harvest now and for generations to come.

Who is in charge of responsible fisheries management in Alaska?

In a word: everyone. State, federal and international organizations all work together to manage and oversee the major Alaska fisheries-salmon, ground fish, halibut and crab. These organizations are responsible for scientific research, enforcement of the laws, setting policies and determining the number of fish that can be caught based on the scientific data. What’s more, public participation by fishermen and seafood processors, as well as environmental groups, is encouraged. Alaskans believe that the opportunity for the public to participate in the fisheries management process helps build widespread understanding about the importance of smart management actions.

But how do you know how much fish you can catch?

Generations of Alaskans have dedicated themselves to responsible fishing and some of the state’s finest scientific minds have developed methods for ensuring that our fisheries are sustainable for the long term. When deciding how much should be caught in ground fish fisheries like cod, halibut and black cod, scientists first calculate the Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC), which is the maximum number of fish that can be sustainably caught. This number is a very small portion of the total amount of fish, the Biomass, available in the sea. Then, to be extra cautious, fisheries managers go a step further and determine the Total Allowable Catch (TAC), which is the total amount of fish that can legally be harvested. The TAC is then further divided into quotas for individual fishing operations with all harvest data closely monitored to ensure that these harvest levels are maintained. Because the Total Allowable Catch never exceeds the Acceptable Biological Catch, the state of Alaska ensures there will always be plenty of ground fish in the sea, season after season.

In the case of Alaska’s wild salmon, the fish’s unique life cycle requires a different approach. Each summer mature salmon return to the rivers of their birth to mate and spawn before they die. This annual migration gives biologists an excellent opportunity to observe populations up close. To protect these salmon, fisheries biologists establish escapement goals – the number of salmon that need to get upstream for mating to ensure a healthy population – and then monitor the salmon runs throughout the fishing season. Fishing fleets are allowed finite windows of time to catch the salmon with fishery managers deciding when to open and close the grounds to reach the escapement goals. While in some cases management goals are established prior to the season open based on population estimates from the open ocean, the salmon fisheries practice what is known as “in-season” management, allowing goals and harvests to be adjusted in real time for the long-term benefit of the salmon populations.

How can I be certain that I’m using sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood is a complex issue and it can be confusing at times, but the good news is that finding sustainable fish is in fact easy – just make sure that your seafood is from Alaska. Today everyone is concerned over the health of the earth’s fish populations and so many efforts have been made to identify what fish are responsible to eat. Organizations offer a certification that a fishery is sustainable, aquariums publish guides to sustainable seafood and retailers often provide their own resources on how to shop responsibly. However, the simplest way to guarantee that your fish is sustainable is to buy Alaska seafood because that’s the only kind of fish the state harvests.

Is Alaska seafood certified sustainable?

With numerous organizations providing third-party certification for responsible management and sustainability, the vast majority of Alaska’s seafood bears at least one type of certification. In particular, a number of Alaska fisheries have been certified according to the FAO-Based Responsible Fisheries Management Certification including Alaska Salmon, Alaska Halibut, Alaska Black Cod/Sablefish, Alaska Pollock and Alaska Crab, with Alaska Cod and other ground fish species scheduled for assessment.

What is the FAO-Based Model?

Many fisheries in Alaska utilize a third-party certification called the FAO-Based Responsible Fisheries Management certification program. This certification shows that Alaska’s fisheries meet the criteria of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the most comprehensive and respected fisheries management guidelines in the world. The FAO Code & Guidelines were created with the participation and input of the world’s governments, fishery scientists and conservationists. That means the fisheries in Alaska are assessed against the world’s highest and most internationally accepted standard – something Alaskans are comfortable with because they’ve been fishing sustainably for generations. So far Alaska Salmon, Alaska Halibut, Alaska Black Cod/Sablefish and Alaska Pollock have been certified to the FAO-Based Responsible Fisheries Management Certification. Alaska Cod, Crab and other Alaska ground fish species are scheduled for 2012.

How important is seafood to Alaska’s economy?

If you’ve ever seen a salmon run in Alaska, then you know it’s tough to talk about Alaska seafood without using some pretty big number. For example, in 2011 the total Alaska commercial seafood industry was valued at nearly $5 billion. The Alaska seafood industry also employs over 60,000 workers in Alaska and creates tens of thousands of jobs for support industries and service sectors, making it the largest private-sector employer in the State!

How important is the seafood industry for employment in the State of Alaska?

Alaska’s seafood industry is the largest private sector employer in the state, creating over 70,548 direct jobs and another 10,252 indirect jobs to encompass a full 32% of the state’s workforce. The seafood industry creates more jobs than any other non-government industry sector in Alaska, including the state’s other vital industries, oil and gas and mining, combined.

Who are the people supported by the industry?

In many ways it can be said that with its outsize impact on the state’s employment and overall economy, the seafood industry touches the lives of almost all Alaskans. The jobs created by the industry, either directly or indirectly, are spread widely across the state.

With Alaska’s sparse population, are most of these jobs concentrated in the cities?

While there have always been a few larger fishing ports in Alaska, the state’s fisheries and small communities have developed side by side for generations meaning that the people live where the fish are – and that’s where the jobs are created as well. For example, the Western Alaska Community Development Quota program allocates a portion of the Bering Sea catch for coastal communities and generates over $180 million in revenues annually for the people of those communities to invest in economic development. In a region where economic opportunities outside the traditional fisheries can be limited by geographic remoteness, this program alone employs 1,600 workers, pays over $22.3 million in wages and invests millions more in training opportunities for local residents.

For more in-depth information about Alaska seafood’s sustainability, including certification and helpful resources, CLICK HERE.