Today, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee passed three bills cosponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), which would support Washington state's $1.6 billion commercial fishing industry and $10.8 billion coastal economy.
The three Cantwell-backed bills would:
- Identify and study harmful algae and low-oxygen "dead zones';
- Strengthen enforcement of fisheries laws on the high seas; and,
- Prevent vessels from entering U.S. ports to offload illegally caught seafood.
The bills will now to go the full Senate for consideration.
"These key bills would support Washington state's $10.8 billion coastal economy and the 165,000 jobs that depend on it," said Cantwell. "Two bills we advanced today will help step up law enforcement against illegal fishing boats that have harmed Washington state fishing jobs. Bering Sea fishermen -- many of whom are based in Washington -- have lost $560 million from the illegal crab trade.
"Today's legislation will allow NOAA to identify and mitigate dead zones and toxic algae, so large areas of Puget Sound and our coastline are no longer off limits to shellfish harvests."
The bipartisan Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2013 (S. 1254) would support the state's shellfish industry by researching and identifying blooms of harmful algae and dead zones. This information would allow scientists and researchers to better predict when and how harmful algae blooms and dead zones appear and the best ways to stop them.
Water quality and algae are the main reason why shellfish growers cannot harvest shellfish from most areas in Pierce County. Puget Sound's dead zones in bodies of water like Hood Canal harm the region's maritime economy by killing sea life. Shellfish growers contribute $110 million to Washington state's economy and support more than 3,000 jobs in the state's maritime communities. Shellfish farming is the largest employer in Pacific County and is the second largest employer in Mason County.
The committee also voted to pass the Cantwell-backed Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 267) and International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act (S. 269). These bills would help Washington fishermen by reducing the impact of illegal harvests on fish stocks and cutting down on unfair competition from vessels catching fish illegally.
The Pirate Fishing Elimination Act would increase dockside vessel inspections and block illegal fishing vessels from entering U.S. ports to offload their illegally caught seafood.
The International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act would strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Coast Guard's authorities over fisheries law enforcement on the high seas and in ports. The bill would also increase penalties and sanctions against pirate fishing vessels, companies and individuals who have repeatedly broken fisheries regulations.
The U.S. is the third largest seafood market in the world with 85 percent of the seafood being imported. Of those products, 20 percent are fished illegally, costing legitimate fishermen worldwide between $10 and $23 billion annually.