Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Opinion: Seafood Superpower


The seafood industry is the lifeblood of many of Alaska’s communities. The industry is the third-largest economic driver in my state and the top employer, contributing more than 78,000 jobs to the Alaska economy. Alaska accounts for more than 50 percent of total US commercial fishery harvest in volume, and we are also the top exporter in the country of fish and seafood products. In 2013, Alaska exported roughly $2.3 billion in fish and seafood. I like to call Alaska the superpower of seafood.

Nationwide, the numbers are no less impressive. In 2013, our country exported about $5.5 billion worth of fish and seafood. The commercial fishing industry was associated with 1 million jobs in this country in 2013, and $32 billion in income.

To protect and to enhance Alaska and our country’s seafood powerhouse is one of the many reasons that I fought to sit on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has fishing under its jurisdiction. As a member of that committee, I plan to carry on the very important work of my predecessor, Sen. Ted Stevens, who co-authored the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was a seminal piece of legislation, and through stakeholder driven and science-based management has resulted in the world’s best-managed fisheries.

The fishing industry all across the country had a role in crafting the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and continues to have a huge role today in ensuring that the Act stays true to its intention: sustainably managing our resources while realizing the maximum economic benefit.

But there are a whole host of fisheries related issues that also come before me and the committees on which I sit, including seeking funding to ensure that our councils and fisheries managers have the resources they need to keep our fisheries healthy and vital, to stopping burdensome regulations that drive up the cost of doing business, and fighting proposals that would needlessly restrict access for our fishermen, such as the Endangered Species and Antiquities Acts.

Here are just a few issues in detail that I’m currently focused on:

• Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a global problem that has estimated economic costs of up to $23 billion annually. The Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill I co-sponsored that would fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. It’s awaiting Senate action on the Senate floor.

• In the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, I successfully included a number of provisions that roll back regulatory hurdles and protect our fishermen. For example, I offered an amendment, cosponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, which would provide a permanent exemption from the EPA’s burdensome incidental vessel discharge requirement for commercial vessels. It also creates a uniform, enforceable, and scientifically based national standard on ballast water discharges. The House and Senate are currently working through the differences in their bills, and the full Senate will consider the legislation soon.

• In the FY16 appropriations process, I continue to fight to include funding for core programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including research and science-based management so our fishing stocks remain healthy, and the agency and the councils can do their jobs.

• I am also working to ensure US products receive fair treatment and our exports enjoy open markets. As you know, high tariffs imposed by other countries create huge barriers to marketing seafood. In the trade customs bill, currently in conference between the Senate and House, I was able to include an amendment that, for the first time, makes expanding markets for fish, seafood and shellfish a principal negotiating objective for future trade agreements. As another example, the Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over labeling laws. Currently, “Alaska Pollock” is the regulatory term used for pollock, regardless of where it is harvested. This ill-advised policy allows the Russians to masquerade their product as if it was caught in Alaska’s waters. I, along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the senators from Washington State, introduced a bill that would mandate that only pollock harvested in Alaska can be called “Alaska Pollock.”

Finally, let me say that I know many in the commercial fishing industry are the quintessential small businessmen and women. You invest in your boats, in your gear, in your licenses, and in your workers. You work hard, and take risks. You do so to make your lives and the lives of your families and communities better. You are part of what makes Alaska and this country great.

Many of you want to pass on what you have built to the next generation. That means ensuring that our resources are there for the next generation and opportunities aren’t taken. It means working toward conservation, access, and ensuring that the fishing business remains a viable career path well into the future.

With the help of everyone in the fishing industry, we’ll do that.

Dan Sullivan was sworn in as Alaska’s eighth United States Senator on January 6, 2015. Sullivan serves on four Senate committees vital to Alaska: the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; the Armed Services Committee; the Environment and Public Works Committee; and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.


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