Murkowski Works to Support Alaska’s Fisheries and Protect Consumers through Omnibus Bill

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) welcomed the addition of multiple provisions she sponsored in the year-end budget bill to fund the federal government that will both protect American consumers and support Alaska’s vital fishing industry. These provisions include a labelling mandate for genetically engineered (GE) salmon, a change in nomenclature of Alaska pollock to minimize consumer confusion, support for visa programs that provide much-needed workers during the busy fish processing season, recommendations for nutritional advice on seafood, and protection against the influence of third parties on the definition of “sustainable seafood” in Alaska.

“Alaska is known around the world for our sustainably-caught, wild, delicious seafood, and provisions within this omnibus package ensure we maintain this reputation for years to come,” said Murkowski. “We must support Alaska’s fisheries that contribute so much to our state, an industry that employs 63,000 Alaskans and provides billions to the state’s economy. Whether this includes protecting our healthy salmon stocks from the many threats of ‘Frankenfish’ or making sure Alaska’s fisheries have the staff they need during the busy season, I intend to do anything I can to support our thriving seafood industry into the future.”

GE Salmon: After the FDA’s decision last month to approve GE salmon for human consumption, Senator Murkowski promised to fight back for the health of both consumers and Alaska’s fisheries. Murkowski successfully fought to include a provision in the omnibus bill that blocks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from introducing GE salmon into the market until it publishes labeling guidelines so consumers are aware of what is contained in the product they are purchasing. Further, Murkowski directed the FDA to develop labeling guidelines and implement a program to inform consumers whether or not the salmon for sale is genetically engineered.

Click here to view video of Senator Murkowski discussing the GE salmon labeling provisions.

WIC Food Packages: Senator Murkowski included language that expresses the interest of the Appropriations Committee to include fish species shown to be nutritious and low in mercury (especially wild Alaska salmon) in WIC Food Packages that serve children age 1 to 4 years and pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women.

Seafood Advice: Included is a provision directing the FDA to ensure that pregnant women receive consistent and understandable nutrition advice on what seafood is safe and healthy to consume that is based on the FDA’s latest scientific review of the net effects of seafood consumption.

Seafood Sustainability: Senator Murkowski is continuing her fight against the influence of non-governmental organizations seeking to judge the sustainability of Alaskan seafood, inserting language in this year’s bill prohibiting federal agencies from using outside groups to certify the quality of fish caught in U.S. waters.

Electronic Monitoring: Funded at $5.6 million dollars, NOAA and NMFS are directed to provide a report to the Senate detailing cost estimates for an electronic monitoring program and to apply practical cost saving measures in the new estimates. Replacing the observers required on board to collect fisheries data, often on a vessel with barely enough space for the crew, with an electronic monitoring system has remained a top priority of Senator Murkowski’s.

Pollock Nomenclature: Senator Murkowski also included a provision that allows only pollock caught in Alaskan waters and U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles to be marketed as “Alaska Pollock”. This change will prevent any future low-quality Russian pollock to be falsely marketed as “Alaska” in U.S. stores nationwide.

J-1 Visas: Murkowski secured a provision supporting the J-1 Visa program through the next fiscal year. This is an important program relied on by many of Alaska’s seafood processors who struggle to fill large numbers of seasonal jobs locally, in-state, or domestically due to a lack of applicants, and are forced to hire staff from outside the United States through a temporary education visa program.

H-2B Visas: Additionally, Murkowski was able to secure language to provide additional resources for the prompt processing of foreign labor certificates for the H-2B Visa program. This will allow businesses to hire workers from foreign countries for positions and jobs they otherwise cannot fill, often providing the staffing that is crucial to Alaska’s seafood industry. These provisions also require the federal government to look at how the current program affects the hire of seasonal workers in Alaska’s fisheries and tourism industries and blocks the most controversial portions of the Department of Labor’s new H-2B Visa Program and wage regulations.