Murkowski, Young Welcome Changes to Enforcement of Marine Mammal Protection Act

New Guidance on Sea Otter Handicrafts Protects Alaska Native Artists

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young (both R-Alaska) today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has agreed to issue new guidance on what constitutes “significantly altered” sea otter pelts under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which will provide greater clarity and certainty to Alaska Natives artisans.

Murkowski: “I am pleased that as a result of our continued persistence on this issue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reverse course and provide a clear and concise definition for the use of sea otters in Alaska Native traditional art, clothing, and handicrafts. This is a big victory – not only for the artists who have been afraid to continue their customary practices for fear of heavy handed enforcement operations, but also for the continuation of the traditional practices and way of life in our coastal villages.”

Young: “Though a protracted process, I am pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service has heeded Sen. Murkowski’s and my request and is providing the sort of clarity that will ensure Alaska Native artisans can exercise their traditional practices freely and without incident. It’s my hope that through this progress, we will see an end to the aggressive law enforcement practices of the past, and the Alaska Native community will feel comfortable in practicing this customary tradition for generations to come.”

Murkowski and Young met last week with USFWS Director Ashe to discuss changes to how USFWS defines “significantly altered” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This marks the first time that USFWS has published clear guidance on what qualifies as “significantly altered” under the law. The ambiguity that previously existed resulted in a number of law enforcement actions against Alaska Natives. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act protects both the legal right of Alaska Natives to subsistence activities as well as the production of traditional and customary handicrafts and clothing.

Protecting customary and traditional use is just one of the areas Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Young are working on to preserve the traditional subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives. They are also working with the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture on changes to Federal Subsistence Board and the rural determination process ensuring Alaska Natives have a voice in the management of the fish and game they depend upon for their cultural survival.