Senator Lisa Murkowski visited Petersburg Monday, July 2, and discussed issues and concerns in regards to fisheries.
“I am here to listen to issues that impact your ability to make a living and raise a family here,” Murkowski said. “Give me your concerns on subjects that we need to work closer with you on.”
Many of the members of this fishery centered round-table discussion made mention of a problem with the sea otter population.
“Sea otters eat everything,” co-owner of Tonka Seafoods Wendel Gilbert said. “Crab and other seafood population is greatly impacted by the sea otter, they will go wherever the food source is.”
Gilbert also stated that the restrictions on sea otters are very limiting to the ability to control the situation.
“Fish and Wildlife is interpreting the Marine Mammal Protection Act more rigorously NOAA,” Murkowski said. “From an enforcement standpoint we have a very unforgiving and unrelenting position, unfortunately.”
She continued to state that we have a species that is considered threatened, but the only thing truly threatened is everything else below them on the food chain, and that one remedy may be to get the sea otter out from under the protection act.
“Even if we eradicated every sea otter, it would take about 50 years to rebound,” fisherman and City Council member John Jensen said. “As a fisherman, I am truly worried about the sea otter situation.”
“The sea otter population is a state-wide issue,” Murkowski stated. “Not just for fisheries but for the oil and gas industry as well.”
Murkowski went on to explain that the sea otter issue has been discussed at length and she is trying to come up with a solution that will be agreeable for all concerned.
Prowler owner John Winther was greatly concerned with suffocating governmental regulations.
“Requirements for the regulating agencies are getting to be too much,” Winther said. “In the not too distant future, smaller boats will not be able to stay in business.”
“This is a big issue,” Murkowski said. “Fishermen didn’t get into business for record keeping, they got into it to fish.”
She also asked that the fishermen and those concerned with the local economy weigh in with their concerns in order to come up with a feasible solution.
“I have been told that the worst thing you can do on a boat is not have the correct documentation,” manager of Trident Seafoods Dave Ohmer said. “It’s not running up on a rock or being in the wrong place but not having the correct paper. The government is making it difficult to do what we do.”
“This impacts all aspects of our economy,” Murkowski said. “The emphasis isn’t even on safety, it’s on record keeping.”
Murkowski explained that when she has a chance to sit down with heads of agencies she would like to take a laundry list of specific issues to take to them to possibly develop a plan of action.
The reputation of Alaska seafood was another concern brought to the senator.
“Alaska has always been a resource oriented state,” retired fisherman Grant Trask said. “We are not just in the fish killing business, we are in the food business and we need to protect the reputation of Alaska’s seafood products.”
“The reputation of Alaska is wild,” Murkowski explained. “Wild salmon, wild fish, wild game. We are up against increased pressure with the farm markets.”
The senator continued to say we are not doing a good enough job of letting people know that our wild fish is a sustainable product.
“Too many people are afraid there aren’t enough fish to go around,” Murkowski stated. “We aren’t taking fish from a threatened species. Alaska wild fish is sustainable and there is enough to go around.”