Congress Approves American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act

Sen. Dan Sullivan
Sen. Dan Sullivan, sponsor of the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act, which was just approved by Congress. Photo: U.S. Senate.

Legislation to create an industry-led committee to assist in administration of fisheries marketing research and development grants has now passed both houses of Congress and headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Approval on S.497, the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act, came late last week in the U.S. House. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, earlier passed the Senate. Among the co-sponsors were Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Sullivan hailed passage of the bill, saying that once signed into law “our fishermen will again have a seat at the table to offer appropriate input and oversight of the Saltonstall-Kennedy grant process, identify opportunities for improvement and growth, and maintain Alaska’s status as the superpower of seafood.”

The Saltonstall-Kennedy (SK) Act provides funding for fisheries marketing, research and development, with the funds derived from a portion of fishery import duties.

To inform how the funds are allocated, Congress authorized a group of experts from different segments of the fishing industry to advise on commercial fishing problems and needs. Following a 1972 law, the original American Fisheries Advisory Committee was disbanded. In the committee’s absence, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) decides, by its own criteria, who receives grants. In some cases, the priorities of the fishing industry and Alaska fishermen do not match those of NMFS.

The American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act would bring back the board of experts, with members chosen regionally and across all sectors of the fishing industry, to bring fishermen back into the process of identifying needs and funding priorities. In 2021, NMFS issued 43 grants worth $11 million.

The American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act has garnered the support of a number of organizations, including the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, the United Fishermen of Alaska, and the North Pacific Fisheries Association.