Frankenfish Watch

Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have introduced two new pieces of legislation aimed by stopping production of genetically engineered fish. Each senator co-sponsored the other’s measure.

Begich introduced the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the Unites States (PEGASUS) Act to ban the interstate commerce of genetically modified fish. PEGASUS would make it unlawful to ship, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, or a product containing genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, in interstate or foreign commerce, or to have the same in custody, control or possession of for those purposes.

Violations would be subject to penalties under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Murkowski filed an amendment to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would prohibit funds from being used by the federal Food and Drug Administration to approve the application for genetically modified fish.

The controversy stems from efforts of AquaBounty, developer of the AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon, to get FDA approval of the fish. AquaBounty wants the FDA to analyze whether their salmon are safe to eat, safe for the environment and nutritionally the equivalent of other salmon.

Murkowski said that the genetically engineered fish, which the senators have dubbed “Frankenfish,” could pose serious risks to wild populations of many fish. “While these modified fish are supposed to be sterile, 5 percent of the fish could remain fertile, and escaped stock could breed with wild stocks, introducing hazardous mutations to a currently health and hygienic wild stock,” Murkowski said.

“What’s more, an estimated 100,000 farmed fish escape their pens every year. Escaped genetically engineered fish could out-compete wild stocks, turn on other species, and wreak havoc on the ecosystem,” she said.

Begich noted that damaging impacts of other invasive species released into the environment are well known.

Begich said that despite the manufacturer’s contention that the fish will be raised in closed rearing facilities, opportunities for escape exist through water circulation, handling accidents or unauthorized releases.

Begich chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard. Murkowski chairs the Oceans Caucus and is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.