Voices of Alaska: Unified effort in Congress protects Alaska's seafood powerhouse

Alaska is our nation’s seafood powerhouse. With nine of our country’s top twenty fishing ports by volume, we understand the vital role our seafood industry has played in our communities in the past, how important it is now, and how central the industry will be in the future. Protecting and enhancing Alaska’s fisheries is one of the top priorities of our delegation.

 

That’s why we were particularly pleased to have passed bipartisan legislation to help protect and enhance our fishing industry. H.R. 477, the Illegal, Unregulated and Underreported (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, increases enforcement capabilities for U.S. authorities to combat illegal fishing and protect fisheries off the coast of Alaska, and around the world. It was signed into law on November 5, 2015.

At issue is how illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or “pirate” fishing, is hurting our economy, our fishing communities, our healthy seafood stocks, and our sustainable oceans.

Our country’s fishermen have long been subject to sustainable management-based rules and regulations to ensure the long-term vitality of our species; pirate fishermen are not. These rogue vessels raid our oceans wherever, whenever, and however they please. Globally, legal fishing operations lose an estimated $10 to $23 billion a year to pirate fishing. Here at home, the Alaska King Crab fishery alone is estimated to have lost more than $550 million in the past 14 years.

Our IUU fishing bill fights this kind of illegal activity by implementing long-sought enforcement measures that give U.S. agencies greater authority to monitor, inspect, and prosecute illegal foreign vessels. The bill achieves this by amending existing international agreements to hold IUU violators accountable through civil and criminal penalties, and broadening data-sharing authority with foreign governments to identify and penalize nations who are caught breaking fisheries management regulations.

Further, the bill implements the Port States Measures Agreement, which requires foreign vessels to comply with stringent policies when bringing their product to U.S. markets, effectively shutting the door to approximately $2 billion of illegal product entering our nation each year. By denying entry to illegally caught seafood, we will reduce the economic incentive to engage in this destructive practice, eventually leading to the creation of tens of thousands of U.S. fishing, processing, and related jobs for U.S. workers as prices for domestic fish rise and our fish populations rebuild.

Passage of the bill was long overdue. The earliest versions of this bill was first introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and co-sponsored by the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in 2008. Now, with a unified delegation, we were able to take the legislation across the finish line for our country and for Alaska.

You should also know that together we’ve been working to carry on the important work of the late Senator Ted Stevens, who co-authored the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) in 1976. That Act was an influential piece of legislation that, in effect, created modern commercial fisheries through creation of the councils, implementation of annual catch-limits and science based management. It resulted in U.S. fisheries being considered the best managed in the world and Alaskan fisheries looked to as the gold standard. We fully intend to keep it that way.

Rep. Young, a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee who co-wrote the original House version of the MSA, was selected this year to lead reauthorization efforts on broader fisheries management legislation, which includes updates to the ways fisheries are managed, enforced and harvested through the implementation of electronic monitoring technology. Together, with Senator Murkowski’s leadership as the Senate Oceans Caucus co-chair and Senator Sullivan’s position on the Senate Commerce Committee, Alaska stands to lead on the many important issues affecting our waters and fisheries for years to come.

Our work to protect Alaska fisheries and our fishing community is ongoing. We are working together to address an issue surrounding the Food and Drug Administration’s market name for “Alaska Pollock,” which currently allows any Pollock caught in the world to be sold under the Alaska name. In 2012 alone, 113 million pounds or 40 percent of all Pollock sold to U.S. consumers was caught in Russian waters. This FDA naming loophole continues to mislead consumers who support Alaskan caught products and undermines the strides made in the North Pacific to responsibly manage our fisheries. Together we’ve introduced legislation to force the FDA’s hand in changing the market name of “Alaska Pollock” to “Pollock” to eliminate any confusion.

We’re also fighting to fund the core programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including research and science-based management so our fishing stocks remain healthy and the agency and the councils can do their jobs. We are cutting over-burdensome regulations that hurt our fishing industry and ensuring that seafood is part of a new negotiating priority for future trade agreements.

Alaskan fishermen and women have long understood that our fisheries are central to our way of life, both today and for future generations. We know that working together with Alaska’s fishing community is the best way to protect that way of life. That is our path forward.

 

Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate. Don Young represents Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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