Today’s Catch: Changing of the Guard

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Although Alaska Senator Mark Begich had not conceded the election when this issue went to press, the Alaska Division of Elections had announced that Dan Sullivan had defeated Begich by a margin of absentee ballots that was too large to overcome. The Senator’s support, both at home and in Washington DC, of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry and fishing dependent coastal communities, won him the support and praise of his fishing constituents and endorsements by several commercial fishing groups including the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association.

His popularity among fishermen, who make up as much as a quarter of the state’s population, wasn’t enough to overcome his Senate voting record, which was considered too liberal for the conservative and libertarian majorities in Alaska. We hope Senator-elect Sullivan will recognize, as does Senator Begich, the vital role commercial fisheries play in the state’s success.

Senator Begich was instrumental in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and fought against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood certification, seafood marketing and fisheries disaster funding. He was also a dependable opponent of genetically modified (GMO) salmon, and as chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, Begich filed an amendment to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act, that would ban the interstate commerce of GE fish, or ‘Frankenfish.’

Begich’s bill 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,” unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service complete a full environmental impact statement and find that it will result in no significant impact to the environment.

Currently, AquaBounty Technologies is in the final stages of the approval process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toward selling GE salmon for commercial consumption. The proposed process would splice genetic material from the Chinook (King) salmon with that of a pout fish and Atlantic salmon. According to AquaBounty, the resulting organism would grow to the size of an Alaskan King salmon in a shorter period of time than found in nature.

While the PEGASUS Act makes its way slowly through Congress (currently before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), a recent story out of Panama reveals that AquaBounty has been operating in violation of environmental regulations as it experiments with genetically engineered (GE) salmon in that country.

Regulators in Panama found AquaBounty out of compliance with several environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure legally required permits related to water use and water discharge prior to beginning operations. The ruling carries a $9,500 penalty, near the $10,000 maximum penalty allowable.

We’re sure Senator-elect Sullivan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s wild natural renewable resource to both the state and the country, and we hope he’ll take up Senator Begich’s fight for the health of the resource and the support of those who harvest it.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: