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Public Statements

Fisheries Disaster Funding

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, the bill we just passed out of the Senate, a bill to aid the victims of Superstorm Sandy, is important. It is important when we are faced with a disaster--whether it is a hurricane, whether it is an earthquake, whether it is a drought, whether it is a flood--that we step forward and find those ways that we can help citizens who have faced immeasurable loss. The effort that has gone back and forth between two bodies now, and will, hopefully, move forward, is one which will certainly help to address the needs of those families who lost so much in Superstorm Sandy.

I think we all recognize this was not the only disaster this country faced last year. In my State of Alaska we faced a fish disaster. For those of you who are from States that do not rely on your fisheries as a source of income, a source of jobs or a source of daily sustenance, you might think: Fish disasters; well, that is not really much to talk about. That is not a true disaster.

In my State, when fisheries have declined to the extent we have seen--the loss of the Chinook salmon on the Yukon River, the Kuskokwim River, the Upper Cook Inlet--this has a dramatic impact on our State's economy, a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of so many Alaskans. Whether they be commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, our subsistence-based fisheries, our fisheries communities, those businesses that are dependent on our salmon fisheries, these were all impacted this past year.

As I had gone around the State, basically from about midsummer through the end of the year, everywhere I went, whether I was in an urban center such as Anchorage, Homer, or down in Seward, up in the Matanuska Valley, or out in the rural parts of the State up along the Yukon, out along the Kuskokwim out in the southwest, people were talking about two things: People were talking about our cost of energy because our energy costs remained the highest in the Nation, but they were also talking about fish. Pretty basic stuff: fuel, fish, and food. When we had a disaster this summer, it was an imperative around our State.

We, in September of this past year, had an official declaration from the Secretary of Commerce--actually the Acting Secretary of Commerce, Rebecca Blank--that recognized this fish disaster, and this is a disaster that is statutorily authorized by section 308 of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and section 31 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

These are designations that are statutorily authorized. These are not earmarks. They are not to be labeled as pork or something special for an area. These are disasters subject to a statutory authorization, a process that has been clearly laid out. They are authorized in law for fish failures that require affirmative action from the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary has taken that action. Congress then needs to do its part by funding for these disasters.

I mentioned at the outset that some of my colleagues might not appreciate the importance of these fish disasters. But, again, these disasters are no less important than disasters for which we provide for other industries, such as drought disaster or drought assistance for our farmers. I think the Acting Secretary, when she signed these fisheries designations, recognized them for essentially what they are: fish droughts, fish droughts in our rivers and our oceans. She responded to the fisheries disasters not only in my State of Alaska, but she also moved forward with disaster determinations for Rhode Island, for New York, for Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Mississippi. The disaster declaration the Acting Secretary advanced opens the door, then, for the financial assistance from the Federal Government.

You might notice those funds were not included in this disaster relief bill. That does not mean I will back down from attempting to do my best to make sure the disaster that Alaska faced with its fisheries, and that so many of our other States faced with their fisheries, that these needs will not be addressed.

We didn't advance it in this package. It is important that the Sandy provision move forward, and that is why I eventually cast my vote in support of it. I know many of my colleagues--the Senator from Rhode Island is with me tonight. I know the Senator from New Hampshire is very concerned about it. The Senator from Maine is very concerned about it. I think it is fair to say we will continue our efforts to ensure the disasters that our fishermen have faced will be addressed as is statutorily provided in law. We will work to find that funding to make sure that disasters, however they present themselves in this country--whether it is storm, flood, drought, hurricane, or earthquake--are addressed.

I commit to working with my colleagues to continue to find those sources of funding so we address these revenues.

I note that my colleague from Rhode Island is here, and I know he too wishes to address this important issue.


Ms. MURKOWSKI. I think we have 33,000 miles of coastline, not to be bragging on a coastline. But what is so important as part of this discussion--and my colleague Senator Shaheen has stated this--our fishermen often are not included when we think about areas of disaster. Yet, in terms of those industries, those parts of our economy that are making things happen as folks are kind of chugging along, it is our fisheries that for decades--and for centuries, as Senator Whitehouse noted--have been producing good jobs and providing a source of sustenance for our families.

Alaska is in somewhat of a unique situation in that we still have so many families who rely on their fisheries for subsistence. This is not just an income source for many. For so many in rural Alaska, this means whether or not you are going to be able to eat this winter. The situation on the Yukon and on the Kuskokwim--when those rivers were shut down to fishing, we had actions of civil disobedience, where individuals just came to the river and said: We have to put our nets in because we have to be able to feed our families. Down in the Cook Inlet region, it is not so much a subsistence lifestyle there but a commercial fishery as well as sport fishing. So sport guides who are required to be off the river cannot take that tourist who has come to Alaska for their dream fishing trip. They have to cancel that and lose their revenue, and so guides can no longer stay in place.

So Senator Shaheen is correct about the ripple effect to the economy. It affects all of our fishing communities and those who support them. So when we talk about disasters in areas and $150 million that was to be split between all of these different regions and States, it is a recognition that it is quite slight in comparison to the true loss to our economies, the true loss to our families who have suffered.

Again, I appreciate the commitment we have from so many who have been impacted that we don't give up on this. We have gone through the process, we have jumped the hurdles to get the designation that is required by our government through the Secretary of Commerce. We have done that. Now the step is for Congress to provide that funding that makes the difference. It is one thing to get a disaster declaration on paper; it is another to be able to provide the relief. And I certainly intend to push until that relief is provided not only for the families in Alaska but for those who have been impacted by fisheries disasters throughout the country.


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