January 2, 2011 in City

Fishery earns eco-label

Nate Traylor The (Coos Bay, Ore.) World
Associated Press photo

Andrew Blair, left, and John Richer unload Dungeness crab from the Zorabelle at Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston, Ore., on Dec. 22.
(Full-size photo)

COOS BAY, Ore. – Now that it’s christened a sustainable premium product, seafood dealers expect crab to crack new markets.

Oregon’s Dungeness crab earned the Marine Stewardship Council’s globally recognized eco-label this month, certifying it a well-managed fishery.

The label comes at a time when select retailers intend to primarily or strictly carry certified seafood.

“Oregon is positioned nicely to fulfill that demand,” said Nick Furman, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.

The state will enjoy the distinction as the only certified crab fishery in the U.S., at least for now.

“That will provide dividends to processors and the harvesters in the state, as well as the coastal communities,” Furman said.

But before it can reach shelves, retailers must know where a product is coming from.

Earlier this week, Hallmark Fisheries in Charleston received a chain-of-custody number from the MSC, allowing buyers to trace a product’s point of sale.

“This is kind of a foolproof way to know you’re getting what you pay for,” said Hallmark manager Scott Adams. “It’s a quality standard that will probably add value.”

Though maybe not immediately.

“The market side is a little slower in catching up,” said Brad Pettinger, executive director of the Oregon Trawl Commission.

Furman said the commission began pursuing the MSC’s blessing in 2003, after having been judged favorably by other seafood watchdogs, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Back then, he said, the MSC’s seal of sustainability was relatively unknown in the United States.

“We figured if MSC gained traction that it would be a feather in our cap,” Furman said.

Oregon’s Dungeness crab gets to boast being the nation’s only crab to earn the stewardship council’s stamp of approval. It’s also the world’s only major MSC-certified crab fishery, Furman said.

Washington, California and Alaska may come on board later. But the certification process can be long and arduous. In the meantime, the only MSC-approved crab is coming from Oregon.

“We knew it was a sustainable fishery, but this takes it to the next level,” said Mark Curran, senior seafood coordinator with Whole Foods Market.

More and more consumers, he said, expect seafood to be certified sustainable by a credible third party.

Last summer, Whole Foods implemented a program whereby all its seafood products at least meet the standards of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. But, “we consider MSC to be the gold standard,” Curran said.

Even Wal-Mart is getting in on the label game. The retail giant said in a press release it would purchase only MSC-certified fish for its domestic stores by the end of next year.

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