Alaska's Fisheries

Alaska’s fisheries consistently remain the most abundant and sustainably managed in the nation. The seafood industry is one of Alaska’s top private sector employers along with oil and gas and tourism, creating over 56,000 direct jobs  [KA(1] and nearly $2 billion in labor income  throughout the state. Alaska's commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries are at the heart of coastal Alaska and the economic livelihood for tens of thousands of Alaskans who are employed in the industry, including 15% of working age rural residents. As diverse as these fisheries may be, the most important common trait seen across the industry and fishing communities is their dependence on responsibly managed marine resources. These fisheries rely heavily on good science and proper guidance from resource managers.

Senator Murkowski has supported Alaska's fisheries and coastal communities through legislation and her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where she sits on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee. She has a lead role in the direction and budgeting priorities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes oversight of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). As federal budgets decline, Senator Murkowski has worked to maintain critical funding for fisheries and marine mammal research and management. Alaskan priorities she has fought for include NMFS surveys in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, emergency fisheries disaster funds, implementation of the Yukon River Salmon Agreement and Pacific Salmon Treaty, and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Effective conservation and management of salmon is vital to Alaskans from all walks of life. The funding that Senator Murkowski secures for Pacific salmon programs supports runs that families depend on for commercial fishing livelihoods, along with subsistence and recreation.

Through her chairmanship of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Murkowski is also working to combat threats posed to Alaskan fish stocks. This includes funding water quality monitoring in U.S.-Canada transboundary rivers, ensuring that projects outside Alaska can be monitored for any negative impacts they have on Alaskan ecosystems, fish stocks, and communities. Senator Murkowski also supports robust funding for programs that maintain Alaska’s freshwater systems as healthy fish habitat and combat invasive species. Non-native animals and plants can degrade habitat and hurt populations of fish including salmon, trout, arctic char, and more, harming fishing opportunities in lakes and streams across the state.

Senator Murkowski also serves on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the United States Coast Guard. The U. S. Coast Guard has a critical role in monitoring marine fisheries and enforcing associated regulatory and statutory schemes, as well as conducting search and rescue operations in Alaskan waters. She actively supports the Coast Guard's budget to ensure that the agency maintains its vital presence in the state. Senator Murkowski is deeply committed to the safety of Alaska’s fishermen, and has cosponsored legislation[RA(2] [KA(3]  to support training programs that further enhance safety off Alaska’s coasts.

Senator Murkowski is a founding member and co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, which provides a platform for the Senator to educate her colleagues on issues like illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, marine debris cleanup efforts, and ocean observation. All of these issues greatly affect the fishing industry in Alaska and around the world, and thanks to Senator Murkowski’s leadership, legislation has been introduced to address each. In 2015, Senator Murkowski introduced legislation to strengthen enforcement capabilities relating to IUU fishing. An essentially identical bill that originated in the House passed the Senate by unanimous consent and was signed into law by the President. In 2017, Senator Murkowski supported efforts to combat the mounting problem of marine plastic debris as an original co-sponsor to the Save Our Seas Act, which has also become law. To address the final original priority of the Senate Ocean Caucus, Senator Murkowski introduced the BLUE GLOBE Act in March 2019, which improves U.S. ocean monitoring, exploration, and innovation. She will keep leading caucus efforts on new fronts, advocating for Alaskan coastal communities and the Blue Economy. Her introduction of the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act in March 2019 and of the Digital Coast Act in April 2019 demonstrates her commitment to supporting community resilience in the face of emerging challenges.

In addition to Senator Murkowski’s support for Alaska’s seafood industry through her committee and caucus positions, she continues to actively push forward legislation to advance Alaskan fishing interests. Senator Murkowski has worked tirelessly to exempt small commercial fishing vessels from unnecessary and over-burdensome Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) incidental discharge regulations. She was instrumental in securing a series of temporary exemptions, and finally, a permanent exemption in the 2018 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act that granted relief Alaskan fishermen have long deserved. Combatting federal government overreach that impedes Alaskan commerce is a priority for Senator Murkowski, whether that means pushing for regulation reform, working to prevent designation of national monuments without Congressional approval, or otherwise ensuring that Alaskans have a voice in decisions that impact their livelihoods.

After the FDA’s decision in November, 2015, to approve genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption, Senator Murkowski promised to fight back for the health of both consumers and Alaska’s fisheries. In May 2016, Murkowski successfully included a provision in the Agriculture appropriations bill that requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mandate labeling of GE salmon, ending imports of GE salmon. In March 2019, the FDA ended this import ban despite a lack of sufficient labeling guidelines. Senator Murkowski is now fighting this reckless decision. She believes that genetically engineered salmon pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of fishermen and the health and well-being of Americans across the nation.  Requiring labeling of genetically engineered salmon helps to maintain Alaska’s gold-standard reputation for years to come, and protects those who want to know what it is they are consuming.

Senator Murkowski has also continued her fight to ensure that Russian-origin pollock can no longer be sold in the U.S. market as Alaska pollock. In the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus bill, Senator Murkowski secured language to allow only the term “Pollock” as an Acceptable Market Name and reserve the use of “Alaska” or “Alaskan” as a geographical descriptor for only fish caught in the waters off Alaska, protecting our Alaskan fishermen and the quality, reputation, and credibility of one of the most important species to Alaskan fisheries.

Senator Murkowski understands that fishing is a way of life for many of her fellow Alaskans and supports federal policy that secures its thriving, sustainable future. By cosponsoring legislation like the Young Fishermen’s Development Act and protecting the core federal fisheries management structures that work for Alaska, she is working to ensure fishing and the seafood industry will be a cornerstone of Alaskan life for generations to come.

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