Two bills sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich were passed by the Senate Commerce Committee today and are headed next to the Senate floor. While one dealing with Genetically Engineered (GE) salmon was pulled from the agenda when it appeared the measure would fall one vote short of passage, a measure cracking down on illegal fishing and one supporting NOAA Corps moved forward.
"Alaskans have serious concerns about Genetically Engineered salmon -- I call them Frankenfish -- but other Senators had concerns about my bill, and reluctantly I decided to pull from today's markup to save the fight for a another day," Begich said.
But Begich was pleased the Committee favorably reported the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act, (S. 1980) sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and co-sponsored by Begich.
"Pirate fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry that mocks laws for fisheries conservation and seafood safety, hurts legitimate fishermen in the marketplace, and at its worst, even holds its workers as slaves," Begich said. "Pirate fishing is a serious problem and this legislation is a serious way to fight back."
S. 1980 enacts measures contained in a 2009 international agreement on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing to deny known pirate fishing boats the ability to enter ports and offload their catch. It makes it illegal to knowingly import, export, or buy or sell fish caught in violation of marine laws and treaties, and to interfere with or bribe inspectors. It gives the Secretary of Commerce the power to enforce these rules through arrests, citations, and civil and criminal penalties.
Begich's S.1717, an act for the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States, would have prohibited the sale of Frankenfish unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a finding that production of Frankenfish would have no significant impact or found to be consistent with the National Environmental Protection Act.
"The FDA Amendments Act of 2006 called for a report on any environmental risks associated with GE seafood production, including the impacts on wild stocks, but to date the FDA has not provided such a report," Begich said. "As chair of the Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries, I find this completely unacceptable. NOAA Fisheries needs to have a stronger role here."
Begich noted the public has serious concerns about the introduction of Frankenfish into the nation's food supply including threats to the environment and public health. The damaging impacts of other invasive species released into the environment are well known. There are concerns that the consumer's "right to know' what they're buying and eating is being ignored. Public opposition to the approval of Frankenfish is strong. Last year, 93 groups representing fishermen, consumers and others signed a letter in opposition to the Frankenfish proposal. Polling data suggests even broader rejection of GE salmon among potential consumers.
"While I have pulled my bill today, this remains a serious issue for Alaskans and many others across our country and I will continue my efforts to oppose Frankenfish," Begich said. Another Commerce Committee markup is planned in September.
The Committee also passed Begich's S.2388, the NOAA Corps Amendments Act of 2012, makes needed improvements in the service with no additional spending.
"The 300 officers of the NOAA Corps are the operational heart of the agency both at sea and in the air," Begich said. "They sail the often stormy waters of the Bering Sea to count fish stocks to keep our fisheries and coastal economies healthy, make the charts that allow our foreign trade to safely travel, and pilot aircraft through hurricanes and Pacific winter storms to better forecast where the storms will hit land."
Begich's bill would give the Corps critical tools to streamline personnel practices, improve its diversity and retention of senior female officers. This bill creates new incentive programs like student loan repayment to let the corps compete on a level playing field. It pays for the new programs with savings in other sections of the bill and does not authorize any new appropriations.