updated 8/26/2004 9:05:42 AM ET 2004-08-26T13:05:42

Several environmental groups are objecting to Alaska’s pollock fishery — the largest fishery in the United States — getting approval for an “eco-label.”

Oceana, Greenpeace International, the National Environmental Trust and Alaska Oceans Program are objecting to the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries making the grade for an eco-label from the Marine Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit that promotes sustainable fisheries.

The pollock fisheries were approved for the eco-label by Scientific Certification Systems Inc., of Emeryville, Calif., hired by the council to evaluate the $750 million fishery. The certification is being sought by At-Sea Processors Association, an industry group that hopes to increase sales in Europe, where consumers are more likely to buy products with eco-labels.

The council’s eco-label tells consumers the seafood they are buying is not overfished and was caught in ways that don’t hurt the environment.

Industry action plan required
While approval has been granted, the industry group must come up with a written action plan to address shortcomings in the pollock fishery before getting the label.

The Alaska pollock fishery accounts for about a third of all seafood landings in the United States. The fish are processed primarily by several Seattle-based companies.

Trustees for Alaska maintains that the certifier ignored an 80 percent decline in Steller sea lions and a drop in pollock populations, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska.

“We don’t agree that these fisheries are sustainable and well-managed,” said Stacey Marz, a Trustees for Alaska consultant. “We clearly think neither fishery should be certified.”

Marz said the Bering Sea objection was filed with the certifier on Aug. 3. The Gulf of Alaska objection was to be filed by a Thursday deadline, she said.

72 indicators, dozen deficiencies
Scientific Certification Systems conducted the nearly three-year pollock evaluation. A four-member panel looked at 72 performance measures in three areas: stock levels, environmental effects of the fishery and how effectively it is managed.

The panel found about a dozen deficiencies in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, but none bad enough to deny certification approval, said Chet Chaffee, leader of the pollock certification assessment team. He said the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery fared about the same.

“We think they did pretty well,” Chaffee said.

He said the panel was aware of the concerns environmental groups are raising. “These were crucial issues under the assessment,” Chaffee said.

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