Our sustainable seafood commitment seems to have made waves recently in Alaska, where the state is proposing an alternative standard for sustainable fisheries management. It’s generated a lively debate on how to best ensure sustainable seafood for our customers today and for generations to come. We welcome the discussion because it helps us work together toward our shared interest: to be good stewards of the environment.

Since 2006, we’ve had a public commitment to source sustainable seafood. The definition of this can be tricky – how do you determine what’s sustainable and what’s not? To help us answer this, we work with a variety of NGOs, academics and fishery management experts to help us track where our seafood comes from so we can confidently live up to our commitment and our customers’ expectations for quality. Based on this work, we announced in 2006 that we would require fresh and frozen seafood sold at Walmart in the U.S. to be certified as sustainable through third-party certification by Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the standard-bearer for good fishery management. In 2011, we expanded our commitment to include farmed fish under Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and we added that wild caught seafood could be part of credible fishery improvement projects (FIPs) or certified by an equivalent standard to MSC.

So, what does this mean? It means we want to make sure we know where the seafood we buy is coming from and that the fishery is managed with third-party oversight, transparency, and a constant eye toward improvement. It’s not about logos or labels, which we don’t require. It’s about responsible fishery management. It’s about doing the right thing.

We still believe this is the best approach. We also recognize that things change, which is why we’ve stated that we will accept equivalent standards that meet the same criteria as MSC or a FIP. This is the situation that we’re now evaluating in Alaska, specifically for salmon. It’s not something we’re going to rush into lightly, and we’re again working with individuals and organizations who can offer insight into equivalent standards so we can make the right decision. In fact, we’ve commissioned two independent studies to evaluate equivalent standards. We’ve also invited government officials and industry experts to educate us on the issues so we can be informed.

In response to several questions and some confusion around this topic, we issued a statement:

We’ve proudly sourced salmon from the state of Alaska for many years. We want to continue to source quality seafood from Alaska for years to come while also ensuring sustainable seafood is available to future generations. That’s why we have been and will continue to be engaged in open and transparent dialogue with Alaska fisheries, suppliers, NGOs, industry experts and government to push everyone toward a solution. In February of this year, we initiated a study to evaluate equivalent standards for Alaskan salmon fisheries. We are confident the results will aid us as we continue our conversations.
At Walmart, we’ve made a public commitment to sourcing sustainable seafood for our customers. We work with Marine Stewardship Council, recognized as the global standard for sustainable fishery management, to make sure fisheries are certified, and we also work with fisheries that are not currently certified but are making progress toward better fishery management through a public fishery improvement project (FIP). Today, roughly 69 percent of the wild fish we purchase and sell in the U.S. comes from fisheries that are either MSC certified or under assessment. Another 21 percent is purchased from fisheries with creditable, public FIPs and 9 percent comes from fisheries that have started working toward FIPs. This policy has helped us to be an industry leader in sustainable seafood by working with fisheries that are making headway. It has also helped improve fisheries around the world.

We stand by this and we’re proud of the progress we’ve made. It’s made us a leader in pushing for sustainable fishery management. And we continue to work with NGOs, academics and experts to guide us.

We’re listening and we’re taking this issue very seriously. It’s obviously an issue that people are passionate about – and that we’re passionate about. It’s also very complex, which is why we need to work collaboratively. We encourage discussion, dialogue and healthy debate around the issue.

In fact, I recently met with the state governor’s office and had a very productive conversation. The governor issued a statement following the meeting:

Walmart to Work with State on Alaska Salmon
August 1, 2013, Juneau, Alaska – Governor Sean Parnell welcomed Walmart’s decision not to abandon Alaska salmon. In recent meetings with state officials, Walmart executives stated Alaska salmon is extremely important due to high customer demand. The meetings came just days after Governor Parnell urged Walmart CEO Michael Duke to reconsider the company’s decision to no longer purchase salmon from sources that aren’t certified to be sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“Alaska salmon is undeniably the worldwide symbol for healthy protein and fisheries sustainability,” Governor Parnell said. “People around the world understand the high value of Alaska salmon. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with Walmart to ensure their consumers can continue to enjoy our seafood products.”
Walmart has invited Alaska to send a team to their corporate headquarters to educate senior executives and buyers about Alaska’s sustainable fisheries and management practices. Participants will include the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, and Office of the Governor.

We’re making progress, but we believe there’s still work to do. The world’s population is growing and we’ll need to meet the demand for more protein. Seafood is already the primary source of protein for 3 billion people, and we only expect that to increase. That’s why we believe we have a responsibility to lead and make a difference. It’s the right thing to do for our business, our customers, and the fisheries we work with around the world.