Alaska Fishing Industry to Fund Louisiana Effort

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) is sending a $10,600 donation to Louisiana to help the Gulf Coast fishing industry. The money will underwrite an industry effort to create a citizen advisory committee to help oversee the Gulf of Mexico oil industry.

If adopted by Congress, the Louisiana committee would be similar to those which already operate in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, where Regional Citizens’ Advisory Committees (RCACs) were established after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Those committees monitor terminal and tanker operations, conduct research and provide advice to ensure industry operations are in accordance with environmentally sound practices.

The Gulf fishing and oil industries have coexisted for many years, but the continuing disaster created by BP’s Deepwater Horizon well blowout, which may be gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil per day, made it clear more oversight is needed.

“We in Alaska know from experience that local interests such as the fishing and visitor industries, local governments and others have the most at stake and the greatest commitment to ensure that industry oversight is thorough but fair,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “The Gulf Coast could benefit from a similar system in place.”

Former Senator Frank H. Murkowski was the author of the RCAC system after the Exxon Valdez grounding. It was adapted from a successful arrangement for local input at the Sullem Voe oil terminal in Scotland, and was incorporated into the federal Oil Spill Act of 1990.

AFIRM chairman Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, agreed. He commented, “We believe the RCAC systems in Alaska have been instrumental in keeping marine oil operations as safe as possible. They are an excellent example of cooperation and collaboration to bring very different interests together for their joint benefit.”

The Alaska RCACs are funded by contributions from the oil industry, and include members representing a variety of interests.

According to Ewell Smith, the New Orleans-based executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, the Louisiana industry would like to craft a similar arrangement, perhaps including measures to ensure adequate numbers of local commercial fishing vessels are committed to be immediately available for cleanup and other necessities, if needed. The AFIRM donation will go to the South Central Planning and Development Commission of Louisiana, which will handle disbursement of the funds.

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission was formed as a non-profit corporation to assist Gulf of Mexico fishing communities after the catastrophic hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. It has continued to work with the Gulf Coast industry since that time.