Laine Welch: Bill to ease cruise ship discharge rules is under way in Juneau

FisheriesFebruary 9, 2013 

"Dilution is the solution for pollution" sums up the Parnell administration policy when it comes to cruise ship waste in Alaska waters.

A bill zipping through the Legislature will repeal a 2006 citizens' initiative that required cruise ships to meet Alaska water quality standards at the point where waste leaves the ship, and instead will allow sewage, hazardous chemicals and other waste to be diluted in seawater, which is called a "mixing zone."

House Republicans rejected amendments to require disclosure of the locations, so Alaskans won't know where waste is dumped.

At a press conference, Parnell was asked what he would say to the majority of Alaskans who voted for tighter controls on cruise ship waste, and to the seafood industry, which has worked for two decades to build a brand based in part on Alaska's pristine waters.

"I would say that the standards to which cruise ships are currently being held, and will continue to be held with their advanced wastewater treatment systems, are among or surpass the most stringent in the world," the governor replied. "I would say that the Department of Environmental Conservation's ability to regulate in accordance with federal and state law, and the stipulations they put on the mixing zones, require that marine species not be harmed."

About 30 cruise ships carry a total of nearly 1 million people to Alaska over a five-month period each year. The result is more than a billion gallons of waste discharged into unknown areas of state waters.

On Jan. 29, as the relaxed laws were being fast-tracked by legislators, Princess Cruises was fined $20,000 after one of its vessels, the 2,590-passenger Golden Princess, discharged 66,000 gallons of chlorinated pool water into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Real salmon rally

A "say no to GMO salmon" rally in Sitka on Saturday aimed to raise awareness of the potential risks of genetically modified salmon, which is set to be the first man-made animal ever approved for human consumption by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

"We really are the salmon state, so we should be leading the charge on this one," said event co-organizer Paul Rioux. He said he's hopeful other communities will follow suit.

He and many others worry that not enough is known about the risks posed to humans, other fish and the environment by genetically tweaked salmon.

Ray Friedlander of the Sitka Conservation Society also worries about market effects.

"In Southeast Alaska, wild salmon are the backbone of our economy and produce over 4,000 jobs," Friedlander said. "With mass production of GM salmon, how can we say the price won't go down and affect the market for salmon in Alaska? I think it will hurt Alaska's identity and the Tongass' identity as being a wild salmon-producing forest."

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich introduced legislation on Friday to ban "Frankenfish" or to require labeling if the fish is approved. Begich chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com

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