Working Waterfronts Legislation Introduced to Boost Coastal Workforce, Fisheries

Image: Office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

On Feb. 12, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Working Waterfronts Act, legislation that includes more than a dozen provisions aimed at boosting the workforce, energy and shoreside infrastructure, food security, and economies of coastal communities across the U.S.

The bill would also support efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change on coastal communities and strengthen federal conservation research projects.

Murkowski’s office first began soliciting feedback from Alaskans to help draft the Working Waterfronts legislation back in October 2022.

“The blue economy continues to be a growing and thriving industry full of opportunity for coastal communities in Alaska—and that’s why I’m focused on bolstering the workforce and strengthening shoreside and coastal infrastructure through the Working Waterfronts Act,” Murkowski said in a statement.

To ensure that we capitalize on the opportunities that exist through the blue economy, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure and workforce to support our goals,” she continued.

“This bill won’t just help young fishermen and innovative entrepreneurs but will boost research and climate change mitigation efforts as we work towards a more sustainable future,” she added. “I’m proud to introduce this bill that holistically invests in coastal communities and the blue economy.”

In a statement, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) thanked Murkowski for her efforts, stating that the Working Waterfronts Act would make impactful changes that are much needed, such as expanding access for fishermen and processors to USDA loans, grants for improving waterfront infrastructure that benefit commercial fishermen, and creating a new program to improve maritime workforce development.

“These changes, along with many others in the Act, provide needed help the Alaska seafood industry, a critical pillar of Alaska’s economy,” ASMI spokesman Greg Smith said.

Bruce Schactler, director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition, said that the Working Waterfronts Act addresses many of the issues with today’s U.S. seafood industry.

“The provisions in the Act will help the industry compete in a global market that has long ago passed us by with their subsidies that address labor, financing, technology and marketing,” he said.

Among the bill’s highlights:

  • Tax Credits for Marine Energy Projects. This supports projects that produce electricity from waves, tides, and ocean currents.
  • Fishing Vessel Alternative Fuels Pilot Program, which would provide resources to help transition fishing vessels from diesel to alternative fuel sources such as electric or hybrid, and funds research and development of alternative fuel technologies for fishing vessels.
  • Rural Coastal Community Processing and Cold Storage Grant. To increase support for community infrastructure such as cold storage, cooperative processing facilities, and mariculture/seaweed processing facilities by establishing a competitive grant program through the Department of Commerce for rural and small-scale projects.
  • A grant program for infrastructure improvements for facilities benefitting commercial and recreational fishermen, mariculturists and the boatbuilding industry.
  • Establishment of a Maritime Workforce Grant Program, directing the Maritime Administrator to award competitive grants supporting entities engaged in recruiting, educating, or training the maritime workforce.
  • The Fishing Industry Safety, Health and Wellness Improvement (FISH Wellness) Act, which expands the Coast Guard and CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Fishing Safety Research and Training Grant Program to include projects supporting behavioral health in addition to the projects currently supported dedicated to occupational safety research and training.
  • The Ocean Regional Opportunity and Innovation Act, which establishes at least one ocean innovation cluster in each of the five domestic NOAA Fisheries regions, as well as the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico regions. The ocean cluster model fosters collaboration between different sectors – including public, private, and academic – within a geographic region to promote economic growth and sustainability in the Blue Economy.
  • Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act, which enhances collaboration on ocean acidification research and monitoring through ongoing mechanisms for stakeholder engagement on necessary research and monitoring. This provision would also establish two Advisory Board seats for representatives from Indian Tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, Tribal organizations, and Tribal consortia affected by ocean acidification and coastal acidification.
  • A Vegetated Coastal Ecosystem Inventory. This establishes an interagency working group for the creation and maintenance of a comprehensive national map and inventory detailing vegetated coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. This inventory encompasses habitat types, species, ecosystem conditions, ownership, protected status, size, salinity and tidal boundaries, carbon sequestration potential and impacts of climate change.
  • Marine Invasive Species Research and Monitoring provides resources and tools to mitigate the impact of invasive species and help limit their spread by authorizing research and monitoring grants for local, Tribal and regional marine invasive prevention work. This includes training, outreach, and equipment for early detection and response to invasions.

In a statement, Marine Fish Conservation Network Executive Director Robert Vandermark, said that the Working Waterfronts Act addresses many of the challenges facing coastal communities, and applauded its comprehensive approach to dealing with those challenges and her commitment to finding solutions.

“Our coalition welcomes the resources to modernize and upgrade shoreside infrastructure and better understand and address the effects of ocean acidification and climate change on marine life and coastal communities,” he said. “This bill will also encourage workforce development, including entry-level opportunities for small-scale fishermen.”

“We look forward to putting our efforts behind this bill until it becomes law,” he added. 

Peter Warden, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation Startup Accelerator, called the legislation “a beacon of hope for Alaska’s blue economy.”

“By safeguarding our vital maritime hubs we’re not just protecting our past, but also paving the way for a prosperous future,” he remarked. “Alaskans need these types of forward-thinking initiatives, ensuring coastal communities thrive, maritime industries flourish, and ocean resources are maximized for sustainable growth.”