Alaska News Source: Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduces legislation to strengthen seafood industry By

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The “Farm Bill” is enacted every five years to address a variety of agricultural and food programs. This time around Sen. Lisa Murkowski is introducing legislation that will strengthen a variety of the farm bill provisions to better address needs in Alaska.

Murkowski’s “Improving ARCTIC Act” seeks to improve access to healthy foods for Alaskans, food processing needs for Alaska producers, increase access to affordable housing, improve American forestry and floriculture, and improve tribal self-determination.

One part of the legislation that is starting to get a lot of attention is Murkowski’s attempt to improve the Alaska seafood industry in ways that never existed before.

Part of the legislation aims to address the way seafood is labeled, such as including country of origin labeling for crab to ensure U.S. seafood is the only seafood being labeled as American in addition to creating a Wild USA seafood label.

“We see a lot of times where it is just freshly caught this or that species, but it doesn’t really tell you exactly where,” said Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference. “I think what Sen. Murkowski’s bill does is really strengthen Alaska’s role in the national and international markets.”

It would also address the way seafood is marketed by requiring that consumers be informed if their seafood has been genetically modified or cultivated.

“You know, Alaska has worldwide competitors on every front, but none of them match the quality of product that Alaska waters produce. And a lot of times a lot of other countries and sources try to pass it off as the real thing and it really isn’t,” Venables said.

The legislation also supports domestic seafood production by establishing a pilot grant program for domestic seafood processing in coastal communities and prohibiting any federal agency from regulating offshore finfish farming.

“It is just further encouraging domestic seafood processing. That is a good thing. We have seen over the last 20-30 years seafood processing go offshore like a lot of manufacturing in the United States,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.

Lastly, the legislation seeks to put the seafood industry on the same footing as ranching and farming. The Improving ARCTIC Act extends the eligibility to commercial fishermen for USDA programs that provide assistance to farmers and ranchers.

It also expands Farm Credit opportunities to the Alaska fishing industry.

“You know all of our businesses in Alaska struggle with scale. The remoteness of where we are and what we do, and at the scale that we do it at, really puts us at a major disadvantage for competing in this global economy. This bill really helps to erase a lot of those barriers, lower those obstacles that are in the way,” Venables said. “More importantly, I think it makes us more inclusive. It really makes sure that those that may have been disenfranchised — smaller rural communities, Alaska Native communities, and other small businesses — now have much firmer footing to compete on. I think that really allows us to penetrate these global markets in a way that would not have been possible without this.”

The legislation also creates a grant program to promote the reuse, recycling, and sustainable use of marine products from the seafood industry, so marine waste from seafood, and any other seafood byproduct does not have to end up in a landfill or waste disposal facility.

By:  Steve Kirch
Source: Alaska News Source