Monday, March 17, 2014

SENA14: Verlasso Salmon Update

One of the benefits of regularly attending the Seafood Expo North America is the opportunity to watch the growth of certain seafood producers. Have they met the goals they set for themselves the year before? Have they become more sustainable? Have they encountered new challenges or obstacles? Have they made special achievements during the past year? Interestingly, some writers try to concentrate only on the newest companies, but I also find it fulfilling to follow up on companies I met at prior Expos.  

Two years ago, at the 2012 Seafood Show, I first met and interviewed Scott Nichols, a Director at Verlasso Salmon, a salmon farm in Chile which sought to be sustainable. Scott was very forthcoming and I was impressed by the direction of their efforts. I concluded that: "Verlasso seems to be headed in an excellent direction, working hard to be sustainable, and I applaud their efforts." I was hopeful that Verlasso would continue improving their practices and become more responsible and sustainable.

Last year, at the 2013 Seafood Show,  I knew I had to meet again with Scott to get updated on their efforts. I was pleased that Scott could report much positive progress, living up to my expectations, and I concluded in my article: "Verlasso continues to move in the right direction and it is worthy of your support." What changes would come next?

Only five months later, in August 2013, I reported that Verlasso had acquired a significant sustainability honor, becoming the first and only ocean-raised farmed Atlantic salmon to receive a “Good Alternative” rating from the Seafood Watch program. All other Atlantic Farmed Salmon still possessed an "Avoid" rating, making Verlasso Salmon unique, indicative of their strong efforts to produce sustainable seafood. The potential and promise I saw in Verlasso back in 2012 saw fruition in this achievement.

Scott Nichols stated. “Verlasso is devoted to finding comprehensive solutions for salmon aquaculture’s historic challenges. We are deeply gratified by Seafood Watch’s recognition of our efforts. We have collaborated with conservation leaders to help us on our journey to raise the best salmon with sustainable practices. The Good Alternative ranking is an exciting validation of our achievement.”

This year, I once again met with Scott to get another update on their status. First, they have a new sustainability report, which lays out their philosophy and practices in an easily understood pamphlet. For example, it provides some statistics that other salmon farms have had FIFO (Fish In, Fish Out) ratios of 4 to 4, and that 60% of the world's fish oil is used to raise salmon. To resolve this problem, Verlasso found a yeast, rich with omega-3s, which they could add to their salmon feed, drastically cutting the need for fish oil. This yeast has saved them over 6 million pounds of feeder fish, and given them a FIFO of 1 to 1.

Scott indicated that the focus of Verlasso has changed once again. Last year, they focused on regional markets but now they are attempting to connect with national retailers, larger entities with multi-units across the country. That will get their Verlasso salmon before far more potential consumers and raise their visibility. It may also garner them more reliable purchasers.

What was most interesting though has been the effect of their Seafood Watch assessment, and it shows the power of such accreditation. Scott stated that it has led a number of potential new clients to their doorstep to discuss purchasing their salmon. Many of these people might not have given Verlasso a chance without that approval from the Seafood Watch. As for their existing clients, that approval has made many of them even firmer clients, more secure with the sustainability claims of Verlasso. It is clear that many retailers are seeking sustainability approved products to stock, and lack of such approval can prevent some from even considering your product. If you don't think the Seafood Watch matters, then you would be wrong.

Kudos to Verlasso and I hope that they continue on their sustainability path.

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