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ASMI in talks with Norway, Iceland to create international RFM

Combined, the three countries account for some 50% of all fish under Marine Stewardship Council certification.

The future of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) certification program has been up in the air since last year.

But the program could find a new home as part of an international RFM that would also include Norway and Iceland.

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Mark Fina, a policy analyst with United States Seafood who chairs ASMI's RFM committee, said Tuesday at the group's All Hands on Deck meeting in Anchorage that the committee was optimistic about creating an international RFM program after a recent meeting with fishing representatives from Norway.

In October, RFM members met with the Norwegian industry members in Seattle to discuss the topic of an international RFM program. RFM members did not disclose who the group is but told IntraFish it includes former executives who retired from representing a multitude of fisheries in northern Norway.

Fina said the Norwegian group mentioned feeling the same uncertainty when it came to the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) stakeholder process for revising its standards.

(FROM THE ARCHIVE: The MSC-RFM battle over Alaska salmon)

Norway is interested in both ASMI's and Norway's RFM programs as an alternative to MSC, Fina said.

ASMI is also finding Iceland is more receptive to the idea than it has been in the past. Fina noted both Alaska and Iceland RFM programs have encountered similar challenges marketing their programs to a wider audience.

ASMI's RFM Committee Board Member Jeff Regnart told IntraFish after an ASMI meeting discussing the topic Tuesday that an international RFM program would be a standalone certification program, with country-of-origin labels for Iceland's and Alaska's RFMs remaining in place. But it would also complement MSC certifications in the sense that the marketplace could use both, he added.

How would RFM's transition work?

Fina said ASMI is looking to move away from full ownership of its RFM with the aim of having it housed with a private, independent foundation that would be created by ASMI's board of directors.

While nothing is set in stone until the ASMI board approves it, the RFM committee is looking at having ASMI select an interim RFM board that would serve for a year until the program transfers ownership, Fina said. It would be up to the interim RFM board to then select the permanent board.

A transition where ASMI remains somewhat involved will allow board members to help control it, he noted.

ASMI is in the midst of establishing bylaws so RFM can make that transition, Fina said. The RFM committee approved draft bylaws at its previous meeting, but the laws still need to be approved by ASMI's board.

"They will go to the board for approval when the time is right," Fina said. "I don't think we're there yet."

Fina said a big issue ASMI faces with its RFM program is that its governing documents are written with the intention that ASMI has ownership of the program.

Those bylaws would establish board terms for up to three years and a maximum of three times and would require 2/3 of board members to approve any decision. Board members would also be responsible for voting in new members, he said.

Fina is advocating for a more diverse RFM board as ASMI moves to transition out of owning the program.

"Whether you like them or not, you need NGOs in the room, harvester and processors, people in the market," Fina said.

A real alternative?

While an international RFM program might not be able to replace MSC as a fisheries standard, it also needs to be a real alternative, Fina said.

"Between those three jurisdictions (Iceland, Alaska, Norway), we've got over half the fish in MSC," Fina said of the potential partnership between the three countries. "To us and to folks from Norway that's a critical mass that will have leverage against MSC and will have appeal in marketplace."

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The RFM committee has not yet committed to a future funding model for the international RFM, but is shunning using logo fees as a revenue source, an important part of MSC's business model.

With RFM costing ASMI $775,000 (€683,121) a year, the committee is also looking at ways to make it less expensive.

Revisions made to the program's quality management system to help streamline it should help decrease costs by 20 percent, Regnart said in Anchorage Monday.

One of the biggest changes is the certification accepting desktop reviews over on-site audits for annual surveillance. The RFM committee is also looking to consolidate its assessment processes by making cod and Alaska pollock one category for review and also by adding new fisheries to the program such as ocean perch and rockfish.

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