Fisherman Picket Anchorage Walmart Before Big Meeting

Protesters gather outside the South Anchorage Walmart, demanding the store carry Alaska salmon. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Protesters gather outside the South Anchorage Walmart, demanding the store carry Alaska salmon. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Protestors converged on a Walmart in South Anchorage on Wednesday to demand the megastore carry Alaska Salmon.

The protest comes on the eve of a big meeting between Walmart and state officials. The company doesn’t carry frozen salmon labeled from Alaska because it doesn’t meet their certification standard.

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Inside the South Anchorage Walmart there’s no salmon labeled from Alaska in the freezer section.

In the parking lot, Forrest Dunbar holds big yellow sign that reads, “Alaska Salmon Equal Alaska Jobs.”

The former fisherman from Cordova, who now lives in Anchorage, is protesting with about 50 other people. He says he’s concerned that Walmart’s recent stance that it will only carry salmon deemed sustainable by one third party organization, could hurt Alaskan fishermen.

Fishermen gathered in protest in front of the South Anchorage Walmart on Tuesday. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Fishermen gathered in protest in front of the South Anchorage Walmart on Tuesday. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“Alaskan fishing fleet is one of the largest employers in the state, so if a major purchaser like Walmart is no longer gonna carry our product that could seriously impact jobs in the state,” Dunbar said.

Since 2006, Walmart has required a third party sustainability certification for its seafood.

The Walmart in Anchorage is selling frozen salmon products with the Marine Stewardship Council sustainable certification label.

The protestors are mostly fisherman or processors. Protest organizers like John Renner, vice president of Cordova District Fishermen United say outside interests are trying to dictate market access. He contends that the MSC’s main offices are located outside in Europe and that the agency charges too much for the certification.

“Ten years ago, MSC came to the state of Alaska and the industry groups and asked to certify Alaska Salmon as sustainable. We looked at the issue, decided there wasn’t any downside. A few people said, ‘what if they raise their prices?’, ‘What if they dictate management?’, ‘What if they raise their prices? And we said, well we’ll just deal with it when it happens,” Renner said.

Alaska salmon was one of the first major fisheries certified as a sustainable by MSC in 2000. But Remmer says costs started rising five years ago along with demands from other agencies that are affiliated with MSC. So the major processors decided to drop MSC in favor of another third party certification called Responsible Fisheries Management. Renner says Alaska salmon is already recognized around the world as the gold-standard in responsibly and sustainably managed fisheries.

“Sustainability is what we’re all about here. We’re on abundance-based management. We don’t go fishing unless there’s fish in the creeks, fish to reproduce for the next season. We don’t want to catch the last fish. We’re out of business if we do,” Renner said.

The Protestors say given Alaska’s record of sustainable fisheries management Walmart should sell Alaska.

Sam Back, who says he buys fish at Walmart regularly, agrees.

“If I continue to buy it, I’m gonna want to pay attention to the packaging and make sure it’s coming from Alaska waters instead of Russian waters,” Back said.

Walmart is one of the largest grocery suppliers of salmon in the U.S.

A spokesman for Walmart says the grocery chain is proud of what they’ve achieved in adopting the MSC certification and they’re considering carrying Alaska Salmon.

Senior Alaska officials are meeting with Walmart executives Thursday about the issue at Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.