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Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, thank you very much.


Mr. President, we are coming to the floor today because the four of us serve as the cochairs of the Senate Oceans Caucus. I know the Presiding Officer from Delaware has a keen interest in oceans issues as well, and we appreciate his support for the caucus.

We have worked very hard in this caucus to find bipartisan common ground on issues that relate to the seas and to our oceans, and one of the areas we have worked on is the area that is described in the jargon as IUU fishing, which means illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The better word for it, the clearer word for it, the more accurate word for it is pirate fishing.

These are fishermen around the world who go to sea and they fish above legal limits, they fish out of season, they fish for catches they are not allowed to catch, they fish in waters they are not allowed to fish in, and then they come to shore and market their illicit product. When they do that, they hurt legitimate fishermen and they hurt American fishermen in two ways. First of all, fish migrate around the globe. If they are knocked down, damaged, and caught illegally in other areas, then the American fishery for that same species is hurt. The second is that depresses the global price for fish. These people can flood the market with illegal fish. That drops the price through the law of supply and demand, and now our American fishermen--who are fishing lawfully, who are abiding by the catch limits, who are fishing in the right seasons and places--suffer a disadvantage in the pricing when their fish get to market.

So this is an important issue for our States, and it is not for nothing that we are all coastal State Senators who are here to express our support for action on these treaties.

In the United States, commercial fish landings are over $5 billion in revenue a year. Recreational anglers spend more than $25 billion a year. So this is big business, and pirate fishing is a big hit to our big business. Pirate fishing losses have been estimated at between $10 billion and $24 billion every year. When you consider that our whole recreational fishing industry is only roughly $26 billion--and this is a $24 billion raid, basically, on the international fisheries--it is important that we can do this.

So there is a package of treaties that has come out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. There are four of them. Three of them are traditional fishing treaties covering the South Pacific, the North Pacific, and the Northwest Atlantic fisheries. You can only imagine what the North Pacific fishery means for Alaskan fishermen and what the Northwest Atlantic fishery means for our northeastern fishermen. It is very important that we get these treaties cleared through the Senate.

I am delighted that Chairman Menendez and his ranking member Senator Corker have passed these bills through the Foreign Relations Committee with very strong bipartisan support. I think we have a really good chance to get something done in a bipartisan fashion that is good for our industry and also the right thing to do.

It is simply unfair when international pirate fishers are able to knock down the fisheries market internationally and take away product that we would otherwise catch.

I see the senior Senator from Alaska has joined me on the floor. I just mentioned the North Pacific treaty, which I know has specific relevance to her State.

We are in a parliamentary position where we have unanimous consent to engage in a colloquy--Senator Murkowski and I and Senator Wicker and Senator Begich as they arrive. So I now yield the floor to Senator Murkowski. Let me say how much I appreciate her leadership. She has been the cochair of the Oceans Caucus. It was significantly her initiative that we should focus on pirate fishing, and I applaud all the work she has done, together with Senator Wicker, who has now joined us.

I yield to the Senator from Alaska.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I thank my friend and my colleague from Rhode Island, who also is my cochair on the Senate Oceans Caucus. As he has noted, this is an issue of IUU fishing--illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing--and, really, that is too polite a term for it. It is really piracy--piracy of our fisheries.

Senator Whitehouse has been very engaged in working on so many of these key issues. I think this is quite important what we are discussing today--the positive step forward, not only for fishermen in my State but for fishermen around the Nation.

I would like to thank those who have been involved in this effort in addition to Senator Whitehouse--Senator Wicker,

as well as Senator Begich, for their efforts to help advance these treaties. I would also like to recognize Senator Menendez and Senator Corker for their support through the Foreign Relations Committee process.

It should come as no surprise to any of my colleagues here in terms of Alaska's role with our fisheries. Alaska leads all States in terms of both volume and value of commercial fisheries, with approximately 1.84 million metric tons, worth $1.3 billion. The seafood coming out of Alaska accounts for over 52 percent of our Nation's commercial seafood harvest. Our commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries are really at the heart of coastal Alaska. They are the source of economic livelihood for more than 80,000 Alaskans who are directly or indirectly employed in the industry. I count my family as part of Alaska's fishing families who support very well managed, sustainable fisheries.

But what we have seen from these acts of piracy--this illegal fishing--let's take, for instance, the crab fisheries, is very serious. Illegally harvested Russian king crab has been a real problem for us in Alaska since the early 1990s. In 2011 NOAA law enforcement seized 112 metric tons of illegally harvested Russian king crab that was being shipped to U.S. markets through the Port of Seattle. So what happens here is you have the Russians, who are taking too many of the king crab, illegally harvesting them and then effectively dumping them on the U.S. markets. Well, what do you think that does, then, to the price of the crab we are catching here lawfully in the United States? It is depressing the price of crab. Now, I know this. I mentioned that my family is in the fishing business. My cousin is involved in the crab industry. They have seen the prices of crab go down between 20 and 25 percent because of this illegal harvesting by the Russians.

This is not just a small problem. This is not something that is just happening right now. This has been happening for decades now, and it needs to be stopped. I do want to take a moment to express my appreciation for the amazing work our U.S. Coast Guard does, as well as the other agencies, NOAA and the State Department, their combined efforts they are making to combat pirate fishing. It is greatly appreciated by me and my constituents.

We have four treaties in front of us that will help to level this playing field and ensure that our coastal fishing communities will face less unfair competition from pirate fishing vessels that simply have not been held to the high fisheries management standards we have here in the United States.

Two of the treaties we are looking at are particularly important for my State. One is the Port State Measures Agreement. This sets global standards to combat IUU fishing, and it helps to protect our U.S. fishermen by keeping the foreign, illegally caught fish from entering the global stream of commerce. It is hugely important for us.

The other one I would like to highlight is the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the North Pacific Ocean. This will ensure that the North Pacific Fisheries Commission is established and also helps to ensure that there is a fisheries management regime in place to deter this IUU fishing within the region adjacent to Alaska. So it is critically important when it comes to our fisheries and the sustainability of our fisheries and how we manage our fisheries.

We are trying to play by the rules. We expect others to be doing the same.

So, again, I appreciate the work so many have done to help advance these treaties that are before us.

I see my colleague from Mississippi on the floor, and I would like to hear again from him in terms of support for these treaties.

With that, I yield to my friend from Mississippi.

Mr. WICKER. I thank my colleague.

Mr. President, I do not know if I need to seek recognition to be in a colloquy, but I do appreciate the remarks of the Senator from Rhode Island and the Senator from Alaska.

I rise this afternoon to join them in wholehearted support of these four important measures. They are an important step in combating--the term we use, as the Senator from Alaska said--is illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, IUU fishing, but I will also join my colleagues in saying that it is nothing short of pirate fishing.

It has broad economic, social, and ecological consequences. I am glad to join in support of these four measures. They have been hotlined. For those within the sound of our voices today that do not understand that, it is an expedited way to move things on a unanimous basis. I have every reason to believe that it will only be a matter of time before we have these hotline requests cleared on both sides of the aisle.

Alaska and Rhode Island have their interests in this. I can assure you that Mississippi does too. Mississippi is home to many hard-working fishing communities. They depend on the oceans for their livelihoods. We are the sixth largest seafood-producing State in the country. Many people might not realize that. We are second in the Gulf of Mexico to the State of Louisiana.

Pirate fishing hurts our fishermen. Our fishermen abide by the law. Pirate fishing puts them at a competitive disadvantage, as the Senator said. These fishermen who are small business owners, for the most part, should not be penalized for playing by the rules. International cooperation and standards are needed to protect local commerce and the environment. That is what the Agreement on Port State Measures would do.

Under the agreement, vessels carrying illegally harvested fish would not be allowed to enter our ports and thereby dilute the market with fraudulent product. In this way, the agreement would protect U.S. fishermen, seafood buyers, and consumers, while also supporting marine habitat, coastal economies, and coastal communities.

Estimates show that pirate fishing costs as much as $23 billion per year globally and poses a serious threat to the sustainability of marine habitat. In parts of the world it accounts for up to 40 percent of the wild marine fish caught.

Other treaties under consideration address high seas fisheries resources. As the Senator from Alaska said, one in the North Pacific, yet another in the South Pacific, as well as amendments to the 1978 Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization Convention. These amendments simply update the conventions with standards similar to those that we in the United States use for our domestic waters.

These treaties can serve as powerful tools for showing that the United States is committed to enforcing fisheries laws and encouraging other countries to follow suit. Like other fisheries treaties that the Senate has ratified, they would protect America's interests, and they would protect American workers.

Our commercial and recreational fishing industries are responsible for 1.7 million American jobs and countless more at docks and facilities for processing and distribution. In summary, these four measures are good for the economy, they are good for the seafood industry, they are good for consumers, they are good for small business people, and they are good for our commercial fishermen.

It is an opportunity for us to strike a blow for bipartisanship and internationalism. I am glad to see the widespread support. I look forward to the measures being cleared on both sides of the aisle. I see my other distinguished colleague from Alaska here.

I yield the floor.

Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, what you will find with these issues is that they are bipartisan. Fish know no boundaries of political persuasion. They look at what is important to them. We like to catch them and eat them. So it does not matter where they come from, whether from the seas of Alaska or from the gulf. So I thank the Senator for the opportunity to say a few words.

To Senator Whitehouse, my thanks for organizing and allowing this opportunity. I will tell you, we do not mean to outnumber you, having two Alaskans here. We are so dedicated to this issue. I can tell you having this opportunity to have these four treaties ratified is incredibly important for us.

I know lots of times we talk about illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. I like to simply call it pirate fishing. These are people who steal our fish out of our waters and then try to sell them back to us. Clearly it is what it is: stealing our stock and packing our fisheries and passing, as was just mentioned, the cost to our markets of $23 billion a year nationwide--worldwide--because of these pirate fishermen and fisherwomen.

Alaskan crab fishermen, for example--for people who like to watch a reality show, ``The Deadliest Catch'' is one of those. ``The Deadliest Catch'' guys tell me that there is over a half a billion dollars in lost crab because of illegal imports that are coming in. They may be stolen or labeled incorrectly.

The human impact is even more appalling, when you think about it. The working conditions on those boats are deplorable. They do not call them ``rust buckets'' for nothing. They are. They are dangerous. They are unsafe. There is forced labor, human trafficking, slavery. You name the list; it is everything you can imagine in these ships.

Again, you can call it what you want, but at the end of the day, what is happening is pirate fishing. They are stealing the fish. Again, illegal fishing is a stateless criminal enterprise. There are no flags. They steal fish with impunity. They victimize their workers. We need to fight back. These treaties help do it.

The Coast Guard--we love our coasties. It does not matter if they are in Alaska or around the country. They do an incredible job. They track down these criminals on the high seas and chase them down. You can see in this picture where they have caught one of the ships--our Coast Guard cutters in the North Pacific a few years back.

There is no question when they catch these ships what should happen to them, from my perspective. I am a little more radical on this. I know we will have these treaties, which are important. But you know, in my view, if they catch a ship like this, they should take the crew off, take the hazardous waste off, and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. Then we are done. The people will get a clear message.

I know some lawyers object to my idea. I recognize that. But let me tell you, we had some ships--this one, for example. As you can see, it is not only a rust bucket; you can see the rust bleeding off of it. This is one of these ships that was washed into our waters from the tsunami in Japan. You can see a well-placed artillery shell hit it in the middle because they decided to sink it.

So after the Coast Guard's lawyers thought it was not a good idea, we had a piece of equipment that they then went ahead and sunk. I will tell you, you do this kind of activity, and I guarantee you the pirates of this country who are trying to steal our fish will get a clear and simple message.

But it is important to go after these pirates. The Coast Guard--in this case it was an old rust bucket they sunk to the bottom. I have taken to the floor many times to say they need better tools, more cutters, more patrol aircraft to do their job and increase their capacity in going after these pirates--not only pirates on fishing, but also smuggling drugs and all the other work that these

illegal ships are doing that they need to go after. We need to have tougher laws. That is what these treaties do. They strengthen the laws. They are bipartisan. The Port State Measures Agreement tightens rules on seafood imports, provides for better inspection, and lists the pirate boats so we know who to keep out of our waters.

Others deal with protecting high seamounts and other needed provisions specific to the North Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Atlantic. They have been in years of negotiations. I applaud our teams at the State Department and NOAA and the many Senators who have engaged in this issue to solve this problem, to create more tools for us to enforce.

We need to do our part. We need to support these treaties. Again, it is a bipartisan effort. We need to support these treaties because it will support our fishermen, support our economies throughout the ocean States and the Gulf States and throughout the States that impact with fisheries. We also need to do it because of the rule of law and protecting and respecting the rule of law and human dignity that we insist on.

When we think of the impact of these individuals who are trapped on these boats--literally, the human trafficking, slavery, and forced work that these guys are taken to on these pirate ships is appalling. We should be appalled just by that fact alone, besides the billions they steal from the waters and try to resell from their harvest in our oceans illegally.

So let me just sum up by saying again that I know my idea of sinking a pirate ship may be a little radical. But the Coast Guard did it on one ship. My view is, why not more? But at least we will have some treaties, maybe with this work on the floor tonight. Again, to Senator Whitehouse, I thank him for organizing all of us who care so deeply about the fishing industry and these treaties that will make a difference. When you put more tools in the toolbox, it will have an impact.

You can rest assured I will do everything I can to gather the support necessary to make sure these treaties pass. I will stop at this point. I appreciate the effort. Thank you for allowing me to have visual aids. Sometimes words are great, but visual aids make impact. Hopefully, people can see. Hopefully, these pirates will see we are serious and this is not some movie that Johnny Depp is in either. We are going after those pirate ships.

Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Mississippi and the two Senators from Alaska for participating in this bipartisan effort. Let me conclude by reading something that Chris Lischewski, who is the CEO and President of Bumble Bee Foods, wrote to me:

Everybody loves a tuna fish sandwich. And Bumble Bee has been in that industry for a long time. They are a proud American company. But tuna travel great distances. They are a fish, that if foreign pirates go after them and fish them illegally, and fish them unsustainably and knock that population down, that comes home to roost for good old Bumble Bee Foods.

Here is what the CEO of that company said:

IUU fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry that undermines our global conservation and sustainability efforts.

By that he means his company.

Illegal fishing penalizes legitimate fishermen and processors and it must be stopped. While the United States has done a good job at developing laws to detect and deter IUU fishing, other nations have not. We strongly support the agreement on Port State Measures to prevent, deter and eliminate the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, because it creates an obligation for other nations to take action against IUU fishing.

I yield the floor. If any of my colleague wish to speak, let me just say that they do so with my gratitude for this bipartisan moment in the Senate and in support of the jobs that the fishing industry provides for our constituents.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I think we are waiting here for a couple of minutes. I will use a couple of minutes to speak again to those who come to our assistance when it comes to the enforcement of our fisheries laws--the men and women of our Coast Guard, NOAA, and our other enforcement agencies.

Senator Begich has somewhat dramatically shown some of the scenes. This is not easy stuff out there. When you have somebody who we have reason to believe has been operating illegally in violation of our agreed fisheries laws, more likely than not they are not just going to stand by and let you board and take a peek. They are going to take chase.

As we are hearing, as we are trying to find some evidence of the missing Malaysian jetliner, the oceans out there are pretty darn big. Usually, the conditions are not ones in which you would want to go out on a pleasure cruise.

Our men and women who are engaged in those enforcement efforts are truly heroes to us in terms of the efforts that they make, the energy that they expend, and the risk that they place themselves at.

So day after day, as they cover our waters, as they work to ensure that there is a effective management of our fisheries, their efforts to enforce these laws, their efforts to provide for a level of protection and safety, their efforts to bring the pirates to justice are truly to be applauded.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to make that brief statement. I see my friend and colleague is at the ready, hopefully to announce that we will be able to move to passage of these significant treaties.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. It appears that we will shortly be able to do that. This is a happy coincidence in which four Senators in bipartisan fashion have come to the floor to support action on four treaties that will help protect our fishing industry, and it turns out that at this moment the treaties have been cleared for ratification on both sides of the aisle. In a moment I will be able to take us through those parliamentary steps, but on behalf of all four of us, I should express my appreciation to Chairman Menendez and to his ranking member Senator Corker for the leadership they have shown in getting these treaties through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I know it was in a strongly bipartisan fashion. I think it was in a unanimously bipartisan fashion.

The Presiding Officer is a member of that distinguished committee, and I want to express my appreciation to the Presiding Officer, Senator Coons of Delaware.

It is good to be able to do these kinds of things in a bipartisan fashion. It reminds me a little bit of our friend Senator Enzi's 80/20 rule: We get 80 percent done in the Senate without incident, but then, of course, nobody notices. The other 20 percent we fight over, and the fight gets 80 percent of the attention.

So it is a happy moment when we can do something good for our industry, good for our fisheries, do it in a bipartisan fashion, and do it smoothly.

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