Last year was a great one for Alaskan seafood and for making consumers more conscious of sustainable sourcing, says Megan Rider, domestic marketing director of the Juneau-based Alaska Seafood and Marketing Institute (ASMI).
“Consumers are increasingly interested in eating sustainably, which for many means replacing at least some meat in their diets with more seafood and plant-based foods, but also paying attention to the source and supply chain of those items,” she says. “Chains like Whole Foods, Publix and the Seattle-based PCC Community Markets, among others, are committed to sourcing sustainable seafood, much of it from Alaska’s waters.”
In 2020, ASMI expects to build on its successes in 2019, Rider says. The institute recently wrapped up research indicating that consumers across all age groups want to increase their seafood consumption in the coming year more than other food groups.
Gen Z shoppers, in particular, she says, are more attuned to knowing where their food comes from, making wild, sustainable seafood from Alaska the perfect protein choice.
And with flexitarianism on the rise, as well as keto and paleo diets holding their ground, wild Alaska seafood is perfectly poised to add sought-after nutrients like omega-3s to a variety of eating styles.
Pollock: a sustainability pioneer
In 2020, the Washington, D.C.-based Marine Stewardship Council will focus much of its efforts on promoting sustainable Alaskan pollock, says Jackie Marks, the group’s senior public relations manager.
The reason? Pollock is celebrating its 15th year of being MSC-certified for having the highest sustainability bona fides. Alaskan pollock was just the second fishery to be certified by the group (Australian lobster was first), and the first in North America.
“There are a lot of different elements to this great fish,” Marks says. “It’s an American fishery, for one. A lot of people don’t know that pollock comes from Alaska. And it’s a real pioneer in sustainability.”
Alaskan pollock fishermen also go “above and beyond” in their efforts to reduce waste, Marks says. Alaskan pollock, for instance, are al processed and packaged on board the fishing vessel, which keeps their carbon footprint small.
Waste products are saved for fish oil and meal products, and product that can’t be marketed is donated to shelters in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
“They do a lot to make sure 100% is utilized,” she says.
Pollock is underrated, something that MSC and the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers are trying to correct, Marks says.
“Pollock is somewhat nondescript. It winds up in products people don’t generally realize have pollock,” she says.
Surimi, a paste that is used as a crab substitute, is typically made from pollock, for instance. There’s a good chance pollock is in the breaded fish finger and other fish products you buy at the grocery store.
Third-party certification, guaranteed
When it comes to sustainable, Alaska sets the bar very high.
“When retailers source from Alaska, they can rest assured that all seafood that comes out of the state will be wild, sustainably caught, every time,” Rider says. “Alaska is the only state whose Constitution explicitly mandates sustainability, and every aspect of Alaska’s fisheries has been strictly regulated, closely monitored and rigidly enforced for nearly five decades.”
Many of Alaska’s seafood species, in fact, are “dual-certified” under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM), she adds.
RFM is a third-party certification program for wild-capture fisheries, which adds another level of documented third-party sustainability assurance for fisheries and ensures responsible fishing and supply chain traceability.
ASMI is constantly working to communicate the benefits of eating sustainably sourced seafood, both for consumers’ individual health and for the health of the planet, Rider says. The group encourages retailers and shoppers to “Ask for Alaska,” being confident that any seafood that comes out of Alaska will be wild, sustainable and high quality.
“We also have partnerships with services for shoppers like Fexy and Ibotta, to help make finding and cooking with wild, sustainable Alaska seafood even easier.”
ASMI also works with retailers to educate shoppers by providing signage and materials, and by conducting instore demos showcasing in-season species. The institute demonstrates preparation and cooking techniques, especially using frozen seafood, which many shoppers don’t realize can be cooked without thawing.
Alaska seafood is rapidly chilled and then flash frozen to maintain the highest quality and maximize purity and taste, while extending shelf-life, which means less potential food waste for both consumers and retailers.
The group also regularly conducts consumer research to help demonstrate to retailers that it’s in their growing benefit to mention Alaska or use the ASMI logo wherever Alaska seafood is sold.
According to Technomic research from 2018, “seafood spenders” (tech-savvy consumers who make up 54% of the seafood spend) are 58% more likely to buy seafood when they see the Alaska Seafood logo.
What can grocery retailers do to better tell the sustainability story and sell more sustainably sourced fish? In addition to using signage and the Alaska Seafood logo so that customers can identify seafood from Alaska, retailers can provide background information on Alaska seafood species, fishermen, and origin to help tell the sea-to-table story.
“We are always happy to make these connections or provide this information for retailers,” Rider says. “Shopper education like cooking tips and recipe ideas can improve familiarity for the new seafood consumer.”
Aiming high in 2020
The Washington, D.C.-based Marine Stewardship Council is taking advantage of a numerical coincidence this year. In 2020, the group’s goal is to get 20% of the world’s supply of seafood MSC-certified for sustainability.
“We’re currently a little over 15%, so we’re definitely moving in that direction,” says Jackie Marks, MSC’s senior public relations manager. “We have a lot to do in 2020 but we’ll definitely keep going towards it.”
Released in October, the 2020 campaign is getting a second boost in February and March, as many Americans prepare to change their Friday diets for Lent.
“It’s just another way to reach the American consumer to get seafood that’s food for you and good for the ocean,” Marks says.
Keeping tabs on sustainability — for free
Not sure if your seafood department is making the sustainability grade?
Monterey, California-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has the solution: My FishChoice, a free, online platform that allows businesses to create personalized accounts to track and manage sustainability information.
Businesses can self-assess the sustainability of their seafood by creating one or more lists of products through an easy online form. And My FishChoice Sustainable Seafood Platform keeps seafood sustainability information up-to-date, so retailers can stay a step ahead of their customers and focus on buying and selling seafood.
The platform can be used to assess the sustainability of seafood inventory, track favorites from hundreds of suppliers, thousands of products and seafood sources, and decide on what seafood to buy and sell from dozens of detailed sustainable seafood buying guides.
To find sustainable suppliers, the platform offers an extensive Supplier Directory. Users can add them to their favorites by clicking on the "Add to My Suppliers" link under the supplier name on their profile page. New supplier members and their products are added every week, and users can get updates about them in FishChoice's digital weekly newsletter, The FishChoice Current.
At FishChoice.com, retailers can get specific origin and harvest details of that product is provided by the supplier, sustainability ratings/scores when applicable for Seafood Watch, Ocean Wise, and NOAA Fisheries, any certifications the product may carry, the supplier’s name with a link to their FishChoice.com profile, and a link to applicable seafood guides on FishChoice.com for that species.