Alaska's subsistence, sport and commercial fisheries are major contributors to the state's economy and our frontier way of life. Alaska has the nation's most abundant fisheries, with an annual catch of nearly 5 billion pounds for the past two decades and a value of more than $1.5 billion annually. Our continued success is the result of sound management that protects Alaska's natural bounty while providing a good living for so many Alaskans. I'm committed to keeping our commercial, subsistence and sport fisheries strong.
Access to rich fish populations is a powerful economic engine in more than a hundred coastal communities, employing thousands of fishing vessels and tens of thousands of workers in the fishing, guiding and processing industry throughout Alaska.
Alaska's fisheries are considered among the best managed in the world. The state and federal agencies that sustainably manage Alaskan fisheries have done so with science-based conservative catch limits, comprehensive catch accounting, a transparent public process and effective monitoring and enforcement.
I am a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and am on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) budget, including NOAA fisheries. I have obtained funding for fisheries and marine mammal research and management, Yukon and Pacific Salmon Treaty implementation and, most recently, for the Yukon River Chinook salmon disaster, which was declared in January by the Secretary of Commerce.
I also sit on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee which oversees the U.S. Coast Guard's budget, the service responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of fisheries, as well as providing search and rescue operations in Alaskan waters. I've continually fought to ensure the Coast Guard in Alaska is adequately funded so that it can carry out its mission of both protecting our waters and keeping Alaskans safe.
As well as obtaining funding, I also support Alaska's fisheries and coastal communities with legislation. I recently introduced legislation, S. 3372, that would extend a two-year moratorium on a Clean Water Act permit for incidental discharges from commercial fishing vessels, including charter boats and other commercial vessels under 79 feet in length. The legislation would extend the current moratorium that was signed into law in July 2008, which I also authored.
I introduced legislation to reform the Capital Construction Fund. This legislation will enable those with money in a capital construction account, which currently requires investment in major upgrades or new vessels, to make a one-time withdrawal and exit the program. They will be required to pay the taxes due, but not interest or other penalties. The resulting money would have virtually no restrictions and could then be used for such things as setting up a retirement account, starting a new business or finding other ways to support families and create jobs.
I'm engaged on a number of other issues that affect Alaska's fisheries, including opposing the Endangered Species Act listings of the Western Population of Stellar Sea Lions, the Pacific Right Whale and the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale. I have provided comments to the National Ocean Policy Task Force on marine spatial planning and I am actively tracking the development of a national offshore aquaculture policy.
I also continue to work on other fisheries issues that can help our fishermen expand markets for wild Alaska seafood, including providing canned salmon to the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program, international food aid and school lunch programs. I'm involved in efforts to create a national seafood marketing initiative, increasing seafood safety and am always promoting the health benefits of Alaska's abundant sustainable wild fisheries. Just two years ago, I fought and won tax changes to allow Alaska fishermen to keep more of their long-overdue settlement money from the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Given all the issues facing fishermen, from high fuel prices to the growing burden of government regulation, I will continue to work to protect the 54,000 jobs of Alaska's fisheries, seafood harvesting and processing industry.