I first came to Sitka in 1982, driven by a love for wildness. I took up fishing to earn college money, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the well-being of Alaska’s wild, pristine environment is directly tied to the stewardship of local fishing communities.
My passion for Alaska’s oceans led me to become an advocate for sustainable fisheries. I still earn my living fishing, and I am now the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. My family’s livelihood, and that of others in our fishing community, is entwined with the long-term health of our oceans. We fish and live with deep respect for the natural world and our unique place on this earth.
It is with this connection to our state’s natural bounty and coastal families that I applaud Sen. Lisa Murkowski for introducing the Improving Agriculture, Research, Cultivation, Timber, and Indigenous Commodities (ARCTIC) Act for inclusion in the Farm Bill, to ensure Alaska is represented in this pivotal federal legislation. This bill is a win for local fishing communities, which is a win for Alaska’s environment.
The Improving ARCTIC Act enhances food sovereignty and housing security in rural areas; bolsters Tribal self-determination; establishes stronger safeguards against oil spills in the Arctic; and protects our marine ecosystems from floating factory fish farms. It also allocates major resources for local and regional supply chains, fortifying the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of our state.
Alaskans rely on robust fisheries for subsistence, jobs, and our way of life. Yet, in addition to warming waters and shifting fish populations, our fishing communities must contend with the ever-present threat of corporate exploitation of Alaska’s water, land, and people.
Many Alaskans are familiar with the staggering bycatch of salmon, halibut, crab, sablefish and other fish species taken by the industrial trawl fleet: approximately 141 million pounds caught, killed, and mostly discarded each year for the past decade. While fishing communities struggle to address this travesty, many are also working to stop agribusiness giants from imposing industrial fish farming on U.S. federal waters, including those off Alaska’s coasts. These massive operations threaten ocean ecosystems and the wild fish populations that sustain our coastal communities.
Responsible mariculture that is community-based and appropriately scaled can and should be an integral part of local food systems. Alaska has tremendous opportunities for sustainable and community-led mariculture. But we must not allow a few corporations to steer the ship with disregard for the health of our communities and the planet.
The Improving ARCTIC Act prevents the federal government from allowing industrial-scale, offshore fish farms in federal waters. Alaska has already protected state waters by banning fish farms within three miles, but at just 3.1 miles, waters shift to federal jurisdiction. We need the robust provisions included in the Improving ARCTIC Act to ensure states such as Alaska, which has wisely protected wild fish populations, aren’t subject to the havoc of factory fish farms.
Moreover, Murkowski’s legislation sharpens the USDA’s vision when it comes to seafood, expanding federal assistance for commercial fishermen and processors, and requiring the labeling of genetically engineered fish (aka “frankenfish”) to help consumers make informed decisions. For too long, seafood has been on the sidelines of the USDA’s Farm Bill, but the Improving Arctic Act reminds decision-makers that investments in America’s fishing communities are investments in our nation’s food security, cultural heritage, and ocean stewardship.
Alaskans care deeply about seafood. In recognizing the challenges facing our fisheries and taking proactive steps to address them, Murkowski has demonstrated her commitment to Alaska’s people and place.
Linda Behnken lives in Sitka and divides her time between catching fish and advocating for healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries.
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