With its sponsor, Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Nikiski, at his side, Gov. Tony Knowles affixed his signature to a bill allowing salmon and halibut products sold in Alaska to be labeled as wild, as well as free of antibiotics, hormones and dyes.
The only requirement is that the fish be harvested from the ocean or river and not be farmed. The measure is considered to be a valuable marketing tool for Alaska fishers and processors.
At the introduction of Senate Bill 208, Ward complained that fish farmers "color" their fish to give them the deep red appearance of wild salmon.
"The fish farmers are almost all using hormones to get bigger fish, and artificial chemicals to hide the dull coloring of farm-raised fish," Ward said.
"I think the people of Alaska have a right to know whether their fish is wild or chemically enhanced."
Ward went on to thank the governor for his quick action, saying the law will give consumers the ability to make informed decisions about what they eat.
"This positive legislation will help our state's fishing industry," he said.
On Thursday, Ward said succeeding with the bill "felt good," but he was not really surprised by the speed with which SB 208 made it through the process to become law.
"Everybody in the Legislature and the governor knows we have a tremendous problem in the commercial fishery, and that goes for subsistence and sport fishing, too," he said.
"You have to take some positive action" to compete with farmed salmon.
Ward said he believes there are a growing number of consumers looking for a seafood product free of artificial additives.
Meanwhile, a bill extending a 1 percent tax collected on the value of salmon at the docks for an additional five years passed the Alaska House on Wednesday. House Bill 390, sponsored by Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, is headed to the Senate.
The tax has been in place since 1993 and funds the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's efforts to market Alaska's seafood products to the rest of the nation.
"By authorizing fishermen to continue supporting ASMI by assessing themselves this small fee, the Legislature is simply giving fishermen a critical financial tool they need to market the best seafood product in the world," McGuire said.
The bill also allows ASMI to expend tax revenues to expand efforts to market Alaska seafood in international markets, too. One benefit of that expansion is the chance for federal matching funds, she said.
"One estimate shows they stand to bring in $12 for every $1 they collect," she said.
"Those are pretty good odds, and we'd like to see ASMI take advantage of them."
The tax raised about $2.5 million last year and is expected to raise about $2 million this year.
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