Murkowski’s Arctic, Coastal, Fishery Priorities for Alaska in 2015 Budget

“CRomnibus” Government Spending Bill Includes Funding for Alaska’s Fisheries, Arctic Navigation, Tsunami Debris Protection

The federal government’s Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) budget for fiscal year 2015 includes several provisions written and advanced by Senator Lisa Murkowski. Among them are items to support Alaska’s world class fisheries, improve Arctic navigation, and protect the state’s coastline from the continued debris related to the 2011 Japanese tsunami. The CJS budget is a smaller portion of the omnibus agreement to fund the federal government next year.

“I want to thank my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for seeing the value of these vital Alaska needs,” said Murkowski. “The focus given to these Alaskan priorities underscores the importance of our state’s fisheries and coastlines and the growing awareness on Capitol Hill that we are an Arctic Nation and we must invest in our Arctic Future.”

Boosting Arctic Navigation: $25 million is included for hydrographic surveys – or sonar mapping – of the nation’s coastline. Senator Murkowski also secured report language emphasizing the need for Arctic mapping:

“The Committee directs NOAA to report within 60 days of enactment on progress made to survey and prepare navigational information for the Bering Straits region and the Arctic.  NOAA is further directed to report on hydrographic activities planned for fiscal year 2015, including: vessels to be utilized, the areas to be surveyed, and the remaining gaps in the Arctic region.”

Electronic Monitoring for Alaska’s Fishing Fleet: The appropriations bill includes $2 million in funding to implement electronic monitoringsystems on fishing vessels. Last year, Senator Murkowski told NOAA that using cameras could be more efficient and safer than placing an observer on-board. The bill also includes language from Senator Murkowski urging the agency to be more flexible regarding waiver requests for the observer program, reading:

“Further, NMFS is encouraged to exercise reasonable discretion when evaluating requests by small boat fixed gear vessels seeking a release from the requirement to carry a human observer due to a lack of physical space or other physical constraint.  The Committee is concerned with NMFS’s approach to granting observer relief based on hardship and therefore directs the agency to grant such releases based on the actual number of bunks on a vessel and reasonable assessment of vessel operations with due consideration for the well-being of the crew.  The Committee encourages NMFS to support the use of experimental fisheries permits, to continue the expeditious development of electronic monitoring equipment and procedures, and to use the experimental fisheries permits as the bridge between cooperative research and the implementation of electronic monitoring technology by regulation as a component of the Observer Program for small boat fixed gear fleets.”

Aiding Alaska’s Federal Coastline Fight Against Tsunami Debris: Senator Murkowski has stressed that since thousands of miles of Alaska’s coastline are federally managed, the federal government should adequately fund clean-up efforts on the lands that it owns. The 2015 spending bill includes $6 million to address this need, and Murkowski’s language:

“The Committee supports the requested level for NOAA's Marine Debris Program but is concerned that NOAA has placed insufficient emphasis to clean up and dispose of marine debris resulting from the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Within funds provided, NOAA shall give priority for clean-up and disposal activities on Federal lands within States inundated with debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.”

Sustainably Managed Seafood: Senator Murkowski is continuing her fight against the efforts 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, reading:

“The U.S. leads the world in responsibly managed fisheries and aquaculture, and the Committee supports NOAA’s activities to inform consumers about our nation’s sustainable fisheries through the agency’s Fish Watch program.  However, the Committee is concerned that the exclusive use or recognition of third-party certifications for seafood sustainability by the Department could have unintended consequences for various domestic fisheries.  The Committee acknowledges that some U.S. fisheries voluntarily utilize third-party seafood sustainability certification schemes but believes it is not the Department’s role to adopt such certification schemes when doing so could result in the Department arbitrarily influencing the domestic seafood market.  The Committee believes support for third-party certifications is best presented in non-governmental forums.  Therefore, the Committee directs the Department not to adopt, use, or promote any third-party certification scheme for seafood sustainability, but to continue providing consumers with independent and accountable information generated from within the Department.”

  • Related successes: Senator Murkowski also successfully prohibited third party, non-governmental seafood sustainability certification in both the Labor, Health and Human Services budget and the Department of Defense budget.

Other Alaskan priorities in the finalized funding bill include:

  • Consistent Funding for Salmon Management Activities: This year’s budget maintains funding at $30.2 million, rebuffing the Obama administration’s attempt to cut funding by $3 million.
  • Support for the National Data Buoy Center: $28.2 million for the project, along with Murkowski language prioritizing the need to curb the amount of outages among the buoy network.
  • Consistent Funding for Fishery Stock Assessments: This year’s bill includes $72 million in expanded stock assessments and $24 million for survey and monitoring projects within the Fisheries Research and Management Account.