Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 18, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

S. 1521. A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from requiring seafood to be certified as sustainable by a third party nongovernmental organization and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. President, I rise to discuss the Responsible Seafood Certification and Labeling Act which I am introducing today. This bill addresses an issue of great importance to fishermen, seafood producers and coastal communities in my state and around the country--the issue of how fisheries are managed sustainably. Based on the most recent economic data, the Alaska seafood industry supported more than 63,000 direct jobs and contributed over $4.6 billion to the state's economy. Nationally, those numbers go up to 165,800 total jobs and an economic contribution of $15.7 billion.

The salmon fisheries are a major part of my State's seafood economy and commercial fishermen around the State harvested more than 265 million salmon this season. With nearly 1 in 7 Alaskans employed in the commercial seafood industry, and numbers like the ones I just shared, you can understand why I take seriously how the Federal Government affects my State's fishermen.

On June 5, the National Park Service announced new guidelines to promote healthy food options for concessionaires at National Park Service facilities. These guidelines include the following statement:

Where seafood options are offered, provide only those that are `Best Choice' or `Good Alternatives' on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or identified by an equivalent program that has been approved by the NPS.

Within the week, I was hearing from constituents, and they were not happy. Digging further into the origins led to policies developed by the Department of Health and Human Services and the General Services Administration that served as precursors to the NPS Guidelines, and an indication that this is a broader problem within the Federal Government.

How bad could this be? Why are these guidelines a problem? Why I am so concerned? Before delving into those questions, I want to acknowledge what some of you may know: Alaska salmon is a `Best Choice' according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can check your smart phone app. Problem solved, no impediment to the Park Service allowing its vendors to serve Wild Alaska salmon to its visitors, or any other Federal agency creating a problem for wild Alaska seafood ..... right? Wrong! It is a problem, a big problem, and here is why.

I believe it is bad Federal policy to allow third party certifiers, including Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs, from the UK, to be the arbiters of what seafood is allowed to be sold in National Parks, or procured by Federal agencies. Not too long ago, wild Alaska salmon served as the flagship species for--MSC. Now MSC is disparaging the ``sustainability'' of Alaska salmon. These NGOs have political agendas, lack transparency, and are soliciting payment for their certification schemes. These NGOs are meddling, and their efforts to usurp Federal and State management expertise is harming U.S. seafood interests. What started as voluntary efforts to differentiate well-managed fisheries, to create market value for seafood products, to reward responsible fishermen and processors, has turned into an aggressive scheme apparently intent on taking over federal and state management responsibilities, intruding into the fabric of fisheries management in my State and around the country. The U.S. currently spends almost a billion tax dollars each year to sustainably manage American fisheries in compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. There is no reason to let groups with no accountability interfere with this process.

On July 12 I sent a letter to HHS, GSA, and the Park Service stating my concerns, defending wild Alaska seafood, and requesting that all three agency heads meet with me to discuss how to change these guidelines. At an Energy and Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing on the Park Service's maintenance backlog, I questioned Director Jarvis on this issue. When Director Jarvis responded that he would make sure wild Alaska seafood would be included, I said that is not good enough, this is a national issue important to seafood interests around the country, and federal agency regulations, policies and guidelines need to be changed to eliminate the references to third party certification NGOs.

The bill I am introducing today will prohibit any U.S. Federal agency from requiring or endorsing the use of any third party non-governmental organization's label, criteria or other scheme to certify fish or seafood as sustainable. This prohibition will apply to any federal agency's purchase of fish or seafood, the sale of fish or seafood by a vendor or lessee on federal land or property, and any reference to a seafood sustainability standard developed by a third party non-governmental organization in any regulation, policy or guideline.

This is the right Federal policy for the Alaska seafood industry, and for our Nation's fishermen and coastal communities that depend on healthy and sustainable fisheries. It also is the right policy to ensure that hard working fishermen and the coastal communities that depend on them are not disadvantaged by the agenda of several misguided NGOs.