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Why Patagonia Provisions doesn't use an MSC label

The US-based clothing giant doesn't see enough rigor in seafood certifications for its ultra-eco-conscious shoppers, and is blazing a trail of its own.

Patagonia Provisions, the food division for outdoor apparel company Patagonia, is rigorous about sourcing its smoked wild salmon and canned EU mussels, especially given its cult status among its eco-conscious consumers.

Provisions parent company Patagonia recorded $1 billion (€887 million) in revenue in 2017, according to Inc., cultivating a devoted fan base not only for its outdoor gear, but also for its focus on sustainability and charity work. Founder Yvon Chouinard, is worth $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion), according to Forbes, and he is focused on environmental causes, another part of the company's brand appeal.

This ethos is why the company has to go above and beyond in the sourcing for its small but growing range of seafood, Birgit Cameron, the head of Patagonia Provisions, told IntraFish.

At a Glance: Patagonia Provisions salmon sourcing criteria

Patagonia worked with the Wild Fish Conservancy to create its owns certification criteria to accomplish the following goals: 1) acquire premium salmon products from fisheries that harvest wild, naturally reproducing salmon in a sustainable manner. 2) support salmon fisheries that provide models of local, place-based fisheries that contrast with the majority of large-scale, mixed-stock salmon fisheries on US West Coast and Canada.

Among its criteria, populations from source fisheries must be well-known and managed to consistently achieve escapements at or above maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

In addition, preference is given to selective harvest gears capable of releasing non-target species and populations with documented low or zero post-release mortality , and to methods that assure high flesh quality.

The criteria do not allow for conditional approval of salmon fisheries that fall short of the criteria. This is in contrast to Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) “conditional” certifications for fisheries that do not meet MSC standards but still bear the MSC label.

Fisheries must meet the criteria before their product can be eligible for sourcing to the retailer. Where doubt exists as to whether or not a candidate fishery meets the sourcing criteria, a scientific panel that is familiar with the criteria is required to provide a more detailed assessment of the fishery.

Source: "Criteria for a good catch: A conceptual framework to guide sourcing of sustainable salmon fisheries" in FACETS.

Rather than using standards available to the seafood market, Patagonia established an advisory committee to develop something more comprehensive. Its standard is based in part on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program.

"Then we said, 'What are the extra things we need to do to make sure we have wild salmon in our future?'" Cameron said.

The company chose two fisheries that it believes meets these strict needs. Patagonia's wild sockeye salmon comes from a community-based, in-river fishery on the Situk River in Alaska. Its wild pink salmon, meanwhile, are caught in reef nets off Lummi Island, Washington.

'Eating lower on the food chain'

Cameron said the aim of the Provisions division, which was launched in 2012, is to identify seafood alternatives that allow the ocean and the planet to flourish.

In its continuing effort to promote what it describes as "regenerative organic farming," last year the company launched its canned mussels in partnership with Conservas Antonio Perez Lafuente, a fourth-generation family-owned fishery in Galicia, Spain.

Cameron said the products have been performing well and that the company plans to offer two new canned items over the course of this year leading into 2020.

"That is the story about eating lower on the fish chain, and making sure people are aware there are other sources of protein like this outside of tuna that you can throw on a bowl of pasta or on crackers or in a salad," she said. "We've got quite a following for these little guys," she said."

A promising future for land-based seafood

Outside of mussels, though, aquaculture is an area where Patagonia is likely to proceed with caution. While Patagonia Provisions does not endorse net pen salmon aquaculture in the ocean, citing the practice as harmful to wild salmon runs, the division is more optimistic about land-based salmon farming.

"We're watching it all the time and looking at what are the best alternatives on land, and doing it the right way," she told IntraFish. "There are some tremendous strides being made by some companies on that."

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OUT NOW! Industry Report: The land-based salmon farming revolution

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