U.S. senators propose new fish labeling, enhanced ocean research and more economic tools

seafood on sale
Wild seafood — salmon and halibut from different parts of Alaska — is labeled and displayed on Wednesday at New Sagaya City Market in downtown Anchorage. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

A new bill introduced by Alaska’s U.S. senators would set up a new consumer-focused label for wild seafood. It’s among several bills eyed by Congress that could affect fishing in Alaska.

Under the bill introduced last week, there would be a program to voluntarily label qualified products as “Wild USA Seafood,” a tool that Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, said would serve consumers who already have a strong preference for those products.

“Consumers want to know where their food comes from—and by creating a specific label allowing wild seafood, like Alaskan salmon caught in Bristol Bay, wild kelp harvested in Southeast, or pollock caught in the Bering Sea, the option to be labeled as ‘Wild USA Seafood,’ we’re ensuring consumers know they are purchasing the highest-quality seafood from the best-managed fisheries in the world.” Murkowski said in a statement.

There have been persistent problems with mislabeled and sometimes even illegal seafood reaching U.S. markets. For salmon from Alaska, where finfish farming is prohibited by state law, mislabeling has been a particular problem. Past investigations by the nonprofit Oceana and others revealed that farm-raised Atlantic salmon is frequently sold incorrectly as wild salmon.

Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks at the Oct. 4, 2022 fishery forum hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. Running for reelection at the time, she detailed her work on behalf of Alaska fisheries. Murkowski and coastal state colleagues in the Senate are now sponsoring a series of bills aimed at helping coastal economies and enhancing ocean research. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The new Wild USA Seafood bill, while it does not directly address mislabeling or fraud, is intended to help consumers exercise their preference while helping fishermen with their marketing efforts, said Murkowski spokesperson Brian Dusek. “What American wouldn’t want to eat seafood from American waters?” he said by email.

The wild-seafood labeling bill adds to a collection of fishing- and ocean-related measures introduced by Murkowski and colleagues from various coastal states, including Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island.

One bill, called the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act, would enhance existing ocean acidification research programs by directing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collaborate with research being conducted by state and local governments and tribal entities. Along with NOAA’s program, there is research being conducted through a program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ College of Fisheries and Ocean Science. The bill would add to those programs by strengthening partnerships with a wide range of local, state and tribal groups. Joint research would focus on vulnerability assessments, among other subjects, according to the bill.

Another bill, called the Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act, or Ocean ROI Act, would require the Secretary of Commerce to establish a federal strategy for creating “Ocean Innovation Clusters” to boost the ocean-based economy.

Murkowski, in a brief online news conference earlier this month, said she was introduced to the idea of fishery clusters during a 2011 trip to Iceland. There, she visited a single facility that housed a variety of fishery-development businesses, she said.

a fishing boat
Anglers fish for silver salmon in Resurrection Bay at Seward on Aug. 27, 2022. Bills now pending in the U.S. Senate are intended to help coastal and fishing-dependent communities. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

In Alaska, the cluster concept is now being used for mariculture development; the Alaska Mariculture Cluster last year was awarded a $49 million federal grant to help develop shellfish and seaweed cultivation.

separate bill, sponsored by Murkowski and King, would expand the range of loans available to fishing industry participants under the Farm Credit System. Called the Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act, it would allow businesses that directly assist fishing operations, through services like providing gear or cold storage, to get the same kind of loans that are now available to service providers in the agriculture industry.

Outside of Congress, significant changes to fishery management in U.S. waters off Alaska and elsewhere could come from updates by federal rulemakers to some of the official national standards used to carry out the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The proposed changes are intended to respond to climate change, to better serve previously underrepresented or marginalized groups and to better manage bycatch and its changing patterns, according to NOAA Fisheries information.

Public comment on the proposed changes is being accepted through Sept. 12.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and X.

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