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Alaska's senators, especially Sullivan, can positively affect fisheries for generations

  • Author: Dave Kubiak
  • Updated: June 26, 2016
  • Published January 25, 2016

Alaska and sustainable seafood are synonymous. Whether because of our iconic salmon and halibut fisheries or the fact that 60 percent of the nation's fish is caught off our coast -- when people think of Alaska, they think seafood.

Equally synonymous with Alaska and Alaska seafood is Sen. Ted Stevens and his legacy of championing responsible fisheries management. Indeed, the nation's federal fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, bears the name and insights of our late senator.

It is fitting, then, that the "Stevens Legacy" is one of our state's most important exports. Through the various updates of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Stevens worked to advance sustainable fisheries not just for Alaska but also for the country. In 1996, he led the charge to amend the law to require fishery managers to rebuild depleted stocks in a timely fashion. In 2006, he further improved the act to require science-based annual catch limits for the whole country -- something Alaska had been doing for decades. These provisions have become core to U.S. fisheries management and have rebuilt nearly 40 fish populations across the country since 2000.

Now it is Sen. Dan Sullivan's turn to carry that legacy forward. Sen. Sullivan holds an important membership on the Senate Commerce Committee -- where Stevens left his mark on the nation's fisheries law. With the Magnuson-Stevens Act due for reauthorization, Sullivan has the opportunity to shape and define fisheries management for the next generation of fishermen in Alaska and beyond.

In his time in office thus far, Sullivan has demonstrated a commitment to Alaska fishermen and could be well positioned to take up the mantle of fisheries champion in Washington. Earlier this year, he joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in opposition to provisions that would have eroded Stevens' legacy. Lowering the floor for how we manage as a nation would only undercut Alaska in the global seafood market that increasingly demands sustainability, and those provisions were ultimately removed from the relevant bill.

Renewed leadership now by Alaska's senators would come at a crucial time. Fishermen and fishery managers face immense challenges. Acidification and other changing ocean conditions are causing rapid changes in our fisheries that have left managers struggling to keep up. Bycatch of culturally and economically important species such as halibut, salmon and haddock threatens historic directed fisheries from St. Paul, Alaska, to Gloucester, Massachusetts. Coastal communities continue to lose access to fisheries through consolidation and out-migration of fishing access.

Modernizing the law in the next reauthorization offers an opportunity to better account for these and other challenges to help anchor fishing in coastal communities and to create programs that help new fishermen enter the industry. Advances in ecosystem-based fishery management offer fishery managers enhanced tools to address threats to the marine ecosystems upon which our fisheries depend. It offers the means to further reduce bycatch and improve accountability by prioritizing historic fisheries and paving the way for cost-effective solutions, such as electronic monitoring.

It is in the context of these challenges and opportunities that Sullivan must pick up the torch that Stevens carried for so long to ensure Alaska continues to lead the way in shaping our nation's fisheries law. This means maintaining the core management provisions of the act while strengthening the existing law to protect fish and fishermen. It means honoring the history of the law and the reauthorization process, which has always been a bipartisan effort. It means enhancing the access of coastal fishermen to the productive fisheries of our nation's waters. We applaud Sullivan for his willingness to serve on the Fisheries Subcommittee and welcome his commitment to sustainable fisheries management. In the tradition of his predecessor, his work can benefit fishermen and coastal communities throughout Alaska and the rest of the country for generations to come.

Dave Kubiak fishes for halibut and cod from his home port of Kodiak aboard his boat the F/V Mythos.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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