Senator Lisa Murkowski supported a bill today that includes important funding for Alaska's fisheries to strengthen the communities and businesses reliant upon them. Included in the Senate's 2014 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill adopted by the subcommittee is $150 million for federal fisheries disasters, which could help address Alaska's low salmon runs last year. Senator Murkowski also included language in the bill that:
- Prioritizes electronic monitoring systems on small fishing vessels for better data
- Addresses Alaska's ongoing tsunami debris problem, and
- Requires heightened scrutiny of the endangered species designation for Stellar sea lions that is contributing to harm Alaska's fishing industry.
"There are a number of tools in a Senator's toolbox to address the needs of their state and I am pleased that the Committee agreed to work with me on a number of marine concerns for our state," said Murkowski. "These provisions will mean relief for small fishing communities, less onerous policies for our fishing fleet and protection from oncoming threats related to the Fukuskima earthquake and tsunami."
Fisheries Disaster Funding
Today's developments mark just the latest effort of Senator Murkowski to deliver resources and results to Alaska's fishing communities reeling from last summer's anemic salmon run -- along with other national fisheries that faced similar setbacks last year. The bill allocates $150 million for fisheries disasters in Alaska, New England and Mississippi, as well as requires that NOAA provide feedback concerning how the funds will be spent. Getting up to this point, Murkowski's fight for fishery failure relief has included:
- Having an amendment to the Budget resolution pass the Senate unanimously in March
- Building a "Coastal Coalition" of 16 Senators seeking relief funds from New England to the Gulf of Mexico, and
- A January floor speech where she compared the urgency of the situation for impacted regions to those of farmlands who suffer dry seasons damaging their crops -- calling fishery failures "droughts in our rivers and streams"
The bill also marks an important step forward for electronic monitoring systems to become more widespread, with a Murkowski provision stating that the National Marine Fisheries Service "shall place a priority on the deployment of electronic monitoring systems on fishing vessels to achieve at-sea monitoring objectives and meet data needs." Electronic monitoring is an option "Alaskans are very interested in," Murkowski told Acting NOAA Administrator Rebecca Blank in April, given the fact it represents better information gathering technology "instead of putting another human being on a cramped vessel" as Senator Murkowski shared with the Juneau Empire in February.
Today's 2014 Appropriations bill also addresses a core concern of Alaska and all states that touch the Pacific Ocean. After the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami of 2011, Murkowski held an Alaskan "Tsunami Debris Roundtable" to gather more information on the impacts facing Alaska. Since then, she has been calling for more attention to be given to levels of debris hitting America's shores -- including a floor speech where she demanded federal agencies work together and share information and resources. Today's bill addresses that need by including language saying: "Within 60 days of enactment, the Secretary of Commerce is directed to submit a report to the Committee regarding how the Department is working with the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, State, and Transportation to prepare for and respond to this debris and how it is coordinating with affected states, tribes, and local governments regarding that work."
Steller Sea Lion ESA Designation
Controversial data in 2010 indicated a dip in the Steller sea lion population, which led to an Endangered Species Act designation. The longstanding dispute over the listing of Steller sea lions under the Endangered Species Act was compounded by poor scientific work by National Marine Fisheries Services. Independent scientific data contradicts the agency's conclusions, but the restrictions continue to cause "$30 million to $50 million annual reduction in revenue and significant loss of jobs," according to Senator Murkowski herself. In today's appropriations bill, Murkowski inserted language requiring that within 60 days "NOAA shall report to the Committee on how the agency is incorporating the findings of the Center of Independent Experts (CIE) panel into a revised BiOp or other relevant management documents." The CIE conducted a peer-reviewed, comprehensive look at the Steller sea lion issue to re-examine the earlier data and conclusions.
These are just a few items of acute Alaskan interest from today's CJS appropriations bill. For more information on the below Commerce and Justice program developments, please contact the Senator's press office.