MSC Americas director resigns amidst salmon certification debacle

November 1, 2013, 6:28 pm

Kerry Coughlin has resigned as head of Americas for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), just over a month after she sent an open letter hitting out at critics of the program and in the same week as an objection to the re-certification of Alaska salmon to the MSC standard.

She will, according to the MSC, be leaving her position at the end of November “to pursue new opportunities” and will continue to work with MSC on a consulting basis.

MSC is now beginning recruitment to fill this role, with interviews due to take place in Washington DC on Dec. 4-5, according to an email, seen by Undercurrent News.

Her resignation comes at the end of a tough year for the MSC, with controversy surrounding the MSC-certification of Russian pollock; its involvement in a video from WWF blasting trawling; and the Alaska salmon debacle.

The letter, however, stands out as the pivotal moment for Coughlin. In the letter, Coughlin hit out at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), as well as media coverage of the MSC, from Seafood News and Undercurrent.

“For the last few years as ASMI has developed and promoted its own certification program, MSC has stayed focused on continuing its partnership with the Alaskan fishing industry regardless of attacks and misinformation as ASMI has attempted to discredit MSC in order to gain acceptance of its own program,” she said in the letter, which can be read in full here.

The news of Coughlin’s departure comes in the same week that four NGOs filed an objection to the re-certification of Alaska salmon to the MSC standard.

This is the latest controversial point in the Alaska salmon fishery certification since the bulk of the fishery, including large processors such as Ocean Beauty Seafoods; Icicle Seafoods; and Trident Seafoods; decided to pull support for MSC certification of salmon in January 2012.

Although some Alaska salmon processors intend to continue with MSC certification, with the Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association as a client, these processors only represent around 20% of the industry.

The large processors are using the Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification program, the scheme Couglin accused ASMI of “promoting”.

The pullback by the large processors has caused much controversy this year, started by Walmart’s original letter to suppliers in Alaska threatening not to buy seafood that was not MSC-certified or in a fishery improvement program.

This came to a head in a federal hearing on Sept. 24, in which Walmart, foodservice giant Sodexo — which had made a similar MSC-only statement on Aug. 21 — and the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) all appeared.

Both Walmart and Sodexo have gone back to the drawing board on this position. Walmart senior sustainability director Jeffrey Rice revealed that while the company “respects” Alaska salmon companies’ choice to leave MSC for another certification option, it is working with The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) to lead an open process to develop criteria and principals to evaluate new standards that are emerging.

This, first and foremost, includes Alaska’s RFM certification. Results of this are expected by the end of the year.

Walmart did not make any statement about how credible it thought the MSC was or any other certification scheme, but at this point, its policy of sourcing from fisheries affiliated with “MSC or equivalent” certification schemes still stands.

The TSC will assess the best way for analyzing certification standards, and Walmart will use that criteria to evaluate whether it will accept the RFM certification as a sustainable model.

“In the meantime, we continue to offer a wide seafood assortment from Alaska to our customers without interruption,” a Walmart spokesperson told Undercurrent, at the time.

An ‘outstanding job’

Rupert Howes, CEO of the MSC, thanked Couglin for her work, in a statement emailed to Undercurrent.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Kerry for six years of dedicated service to the MSC and for her significant contribution over that period. She has done an outstanding job. We appreciate that Kerry will continue to work with MSC’s Board, myself and senior managers to facilitate a smooth transition as we move forward to recruit a new Regional Director for the Americas.”

Coughlin said, in the same emailed statement, “it has been a privilege to work with MSC and our many partners. The MSC program has experienced tremendous growth during my tenure and I expect will continue to expand in importance as a vital global link for members of the industry and marine conservation community seeking to ensure sustainability of the world’s seafood resources”.

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