Russian Pollock harvesters angry with "efforts to discredit their MSC application"

June 19, 2007 15:35

The Alaska-based Pollock producers are obviously trying to apply pressure on MSC in an effort to stop the Russian competition from moving into a higher market segment, a spokesman of a large APO harvester from the Russian Far East told FISHNET.RU.

The comment has come in connection with the recent INTRAFISH article quoting Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers' President Rick Muir as saying that the Russians are not likely to receive MSC certification, at least anytime soon.

The Americans have been worried by the fact that the freshly-established Russian Pollock Harvesters Association with members catching about 70% of the species in the Russian Far East, is undergoing assessment by MSC towards compliance with the label's sustainable fishery requirements.

The spokesman has explained that the initiative of the RFE fishermen is only natural because lack of certification has disabled the Russians from selling to a number of large international buyers in a situation when Pollock products with MSC label are retailing at a higher price.

According to the spokesman, the Russian APO products are not at all inferior to the competition and the late application for MSC label has to do with mixed feelings regarding this type of certification and lack of trust on the part of some industry insiders.

The skeptics say that the fish from the certified fisheries does not differ at all from that in the non-certified operations. And it is just a case of a successful PR campaign for a certain organization (MSC in this particular case) encouraging the end consumer to pay attention to goods with a certain label.

Neither fishermen, nor processors or retailers are happy with the development but it is cheaper to comply, the spokesman remarked.

Naturally, as the lack of the eco-certification has started to complicate sales, the Russians have decided to apply as they had applied for and were given EU approval and HACCP certificates.  In the future mandatory requirements for fisher wages may also arise.

At the same time it is noted that MSC has no exclusive rights for eco-certification and the Russians could perhaps create their own system for the purpose. However the retailers and consumers would have to be convinced to recognize and accept the hypothetical eco-label.

Meanwhile the Americans have been promoting the brand of ALASKA Pollock for quite a bit of time calling their respective organization Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers.

However, this fish is harvested not only in the Bering Sea and strictly speaking the variety caught by the Russian vessels has nothing to do with the Pollock from Alaska though it is the same biological species with no inferior qualities, the spokesman underlined.

The Russian Pollock fishery, the spokesman proceeded, is accused of a history of overfishing but it is difficult to imagine that such a respected person as GAPP President Rick Muir would not know how a fishery is conducted. In fact, "ANY fishery will have a history of overfishing and discards".

In the American Pollock fishery practically all fishing companies are taking part in the MSC certification while in the North Atlantic cod fishery only some responsible firms have been certified for the right to stick on the MSC label.

It is beyond understanding of the Russians why the same selective approach could not be applied to the responsible Russian operators in a situation when, according to the latest TINRO survey, the stocks of Okhotsk Pollock are rising.

Claiming that Russian Pollock is as usual double frozen and will contain additives, Mr. Muir is certainly making a misleading statement, the spokesman went on. GAPP President will surely know that Russian Pollock lives in clean seas and does not feed on any additives. The Russian fishermen process the species either into single frozen fillets or single frozen HG product with no additives, mainly for export. What the buyers are doing with headed gutted APO is out of the supplier's control, the spokesman explained.

Usually w/r and/or HG Pollock of Russian, American and third country catch will be shipped, for example, by an American or Japanese buyer to China for processing where it will be, in particular, made into double frozen fillets with additives. Meanwhile such processing does not exist in Russia.

Though the allusion to Russia is irrelevant, the linking of the additives by GAPP President with damage to the value of the MSC label is too broad an interpretation of the MSC functions at the current phase though it might become applicable in the future.

Meanwhile the hygiene standards existing in the USA, Japan and EU do permit use of polyphosphates "so much disliked by Mr. Muir".

Roe yield

Meanwhile during the Okhotsk season earlier this year (known as A season abroad) members of the Russian Pollock Harvesters Association reduced the average roe yield to 4.5%.

By comparison, during the Okhotsk season 2006 the yield would peak at 12% against an average of about 6-7 %.

According to the Russian spokesman, in 2007 the figure would peak at 10% while the average among the association's members was 4.5% on the commercial fishery quota. At the end of the season however a yield of up to 8% in particular hauls will be nothing extraordinary, the spokesman pointed out.

The reduced average yield has resulted into better prices on the Russian roe. Comparing the MSC-certified and non-certified Russian product, in 2007 the prices on Alaska land-processed roe were lower than the Russian competition produced at sea, which is only natural for technical reasons, the Russian spokesman concluded.

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