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Sen Murkowski gets head of Park Service to revise sustainability guide to include Alaska seafood
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton -- July 25, 2013 -- WASHINGTON -- In an occasionally tense questioning of the National Park Service Director today, Senator Lisa Murkowski convinced him in his public comments to revise the agencies guidelines and take steps to allow wild Alaskan salmon and other wild Alaska seafood back on the concession stands of national parks nationwide.

The issue arose when the Park Service developed its Healthy People Healthy Parks initiative - which has a broad goal of improving public health and sustainability in all areas of the national parks, including foodservice.  The Park service began work on this in 2011.

However, little attention was paid to the seafood sustainability guidelines until the final document was published in June of this year.  At that point, the park service said its vendors could  "provide only [seafood] that are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or identified by an equivalent program that has been approved by the NPS."

Most people in the park service, not understanding the issues around fisheries sustainability, likely did not realize that Alaska's salmon producers have by and large withdrawn from the MSC program, and the guidelines would prevent many vendors from serving wild Alaska salmon.

Two weeks ago, Senator Murkowski originally called attention to her problems with the National Park Service's flawed June decision to require high priced eco-endorsements from outside interests before selling wild Alaskan salmon at parks nationwide, with the risk that Alaska's world-renowned fish would be excluded.

Some apparent good news appeared earlier this week when Seafood.com News reported the NPS had reconsidered its decision, but nobody within the NPS would confirm this to the Senator. With NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis testifying before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Murkowski seized the opportunity to clear up the confusion.

At first, the Director pointed out that their guidelines were not policies or laws, but mere recommendations to their concessionaires that fish deemed sustainable by the controversial Marine Stewardship Council be sold. Murkowski continued on with her questioning, asking him about the NPS' procedures, the conflicting statements being circulated and why they were reliant on a London-based organization - ending with "it doesn't sound like you are pulling back on this."

He responded "What I am willing to do is to change the guidelines so it includes Alaska wild caught fish. I think that's the simple fix here." The guidelines were drawn broadly to give some guidance to our concessioners. We want a park visit to be a healthy experience. The food was the key component. And you have extraordinary food in Alaska."

Murkowski then said that she wanted to have further discussions with Director Jarvis, to lay out the many harmful and unnecessary impacts this has on Alaskan fisheries.   NPS Director Jarvis has scheduled a meeting with Murkowski to follow-up on the matter.

Here is a partial transcript of the exchange.  The video - well worth watching, is embedded at the end of this article.

Senator Murkowski:  As you know, I sent a letter to you dated July 12th about the Park Service's new policy requiring that seafood that is sold by its vendors and concessionaires have to be certified by this non-governmental third party as sustainable. Everything that I can tell is that this policy was developed without consultation with NOAA, which is the federal agency that is tasked with the responsibility of managing our nation's fisheries sustainably. The NGOs that you are relying on here, in my view, have a troubling record of meddling with at least Alaska fishermen's fisheries management. We have got some real concerns about this.

So, I read yesterday, (in a seafood online site (After criticism National Park Srvc goes back to drawing board on seafood sustainability guidelines - Seafood.com News July 24th) - I thought it was pretty good news, that the Park Service is going to be pulling back on this and meeting with NOAA.

So then when we called your offices to confirm that whether or not this was true, we're told that no, not necessarily in fact that that may be an inaccurate statement that the National Park Service's spokesman made yesterday.

So, I'm trying to figure out what's really going on here... We can save ourselves both from that conversation if you just give me the assurance that you've pulled back and the Park Service is not going down this road. So, if you care to comment on that, I would certainly appreciate it.

Director Jarvis: I don't know how much time you want to take in this hearing, but I would be glad to come down to your office to talk in detail about this. I'm not pulling our national healthy foods sustainability standards over this issue because this is implying and was developed over a year long consultation process.

Senator Murkowski: With who?

Director Jarvis: With the concessioners. With every one of the concessioners. Our food service providers.

Senator Murkowski: Was NOAA involved with this?

Director Jarvis: I do not know whether NOAA was involved. But let me just clarify.

Senator Murkowski: NOAA is the agency that makes the determination in terms of what's sustainable within this country.

Director Jarvis: These are guidelines.

Senator Murkowski: I understand.

Director Jarvis: That's not a policy. That's not a law. That's not a regulation. It's a guideline. It's a recommendation to our concessioners that they use sustainable. Now, we wrote it.

Senator Murkowski: But you're saying that they need to have a certain label that is applied by some NGOs based out of London that says that this is the label that you have to have on your fish and if you don't have this then concessionaries, you shouldn't be using it. What kind of a message do you think that sends?

Director Jarvis: We grew from the industry's standards for guidelines for sustainable foods.

Senator Murkowski: What industry standards?

Director Jarvis: As I said, I'd be glad to come by to your office to get into details on this.

Senator Murkowski: We need to have a further discussion about this because you're giving me the very clear impression that in fact your spokesman [Director Jarvis: He was incorrect] Kathy Cupper, spokesperson for the National Park Service, was incorrect. [Director Jarvis: That's correct.] That you're not pulling back on this.

Director Jarvis: What I am willing to do is to change the guidelines so it includes Alaska wild caught fish. I think that's the simple fix here. The guidelines were drawn broadly to give some guidance to our concessioners. We want a park visit to be a healthy experience. The food was the key component.

And you have extraordinary food in Alaska. I mean I lived up there, I know I lived on the Copper River.  I want that Copper River salmon in those concessions. So this is a simple change to the guideline. It's not a withdrawal of our guideline.

Senator Murkowski: I think we need to have further discussion about this because what I'm concerned about is that the Park Service and HHS doesn't understand that when you go with one certification, again a certification by an NGO that is an internationally based entity coming in and saying that this is the label you have to have, what that does to the Alaska fisheries, as you well know, is limits their ability to market the healthiest, best, and oh by the way, most sustainable fishery that is out there. So we need to make sure that we're not cross-purposes on this because it's too important to my state and quite honestly, when we're talking about healthy, sustainable fisheries, I will take second fiddle to nobody on this issue. So, I want to make sure that we're not locking ourselves in to a standard here that is simply not the right standard.

This story originally appeared on Seafood.com, a subscription site. It it reprinted with permission.

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