Growers association pushes for certified sustainable shellfish

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

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OREGON COAST The Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association is taking its environmental policy worldwide, with help from the World Wildlife Fund and Portland-based Food Alliance. There is currently no group in the United States that can certify shellfish as sustainable or organic, although the PCSGA adopted its own environmental policy several years ago. “Growers consider themselves stewards of the environment they work in,” says Robin Downey, executive director of PCSGA.

In an effort to put more value behind what it already considers basic farming practices of its members, PCSGA enlisted the WWF to set international standards for environmental and social sustainability. “Whatever standards they hold up will probably be considered the gold standards,” explains Downey. The PCSGA and WWF convened a mollusk dialogue in Welches last month to work toward this goal. The problem lies in finding an expert third party that can certify shellfish according to the standards, which will address interaction with both marine and upland environments, management principles, efficiency, employee training, waste and local involvement.

Enter the Food Alliance, which has been setting standards and certifying food organic or sustainable for 10 years. The three groups could agree on standards as soon as next year, at which time Food Alliance executive director Scott Exo hopes to be on the ground, certifying shellfish.

Besides the environmental benefits, Downey says a sustainable certification is just good business. “In order to compete in the global marketplace, growers have to have this kind of option.” A sustainable seal could boost the $1.2 million Oregon oyster industry, she says.

Mark Wiegardt, owner of the Whiskey Creek Hatchery in Netarts, is unsure the certification is necessary, as growers are having no trouble selling their product as it is. But he agrees that instilling consumer confidence is important, which the certification can do, and that it may boost international sales. “Anything that certifies your product as being safe is beneficial,” he says.                                        

AMBER NOBE


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