I first came to Sitka in 1982, driven by a love of the wilderness. She fished to earn money through college, but it didn’t take long to realize that the well-being of Alaska’s pristine wilderness environment was directly linked to the welfare of local fishing communities.

My passion for Alaska’s oceans has led me to become an advocate for sustainable fisheries. I still make my living by fishing, and am now the Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. My family’s livelihood, and the livelihood of others in our fishing community, is tied to the long-term health of our oceans. We hunt and live with a deep respect for the natural world and our unique place on this earth.

With this connection to our state’s natural wealth and coastal families, I applaud Senator Lisa Murkowski for introducing the Agriculture, Research, Agricultural, Timber, and Native Commodities (ARCTIC) Improvement Act for inclusion in the Farm Bill, ensuring that Alaska is represented in this pivotal federal legislation. This bill is a win for local fishing communities, and it’s a win for Alaska’s environment.

The Arctic Improvement Act promotes food sovereignty and housing security in rural areas; It promotes tribal self-determination; establishes stronger safeguards against oil spills in the Arctic; It protects our marine ecosystems from floating fish farms. It also devotes significant resources to local and regional supply chains, strengthening the fishing industry that is the lifeblood of our state.

Alaskans depend on our robust fisheries for livelihoods, jobs, and our way of life. However, in addition to warming waters and changing fish populations, our fishing communities must contend with the ever-present threat of corporate exploitation of Alaska’s waters, lands, and people.

Many Alaskans are familiar with the staggering bycatch of salmon, halibut, crab, sablefish and other fish species caught by the industrial fishing fleet: approximately 141 million pounds caught, killed and mostly discarded each year for the past decade. As fishing communities struggle to address this travesty, many are also working to prevent agribusiness giants from imposing industrial fish farming on U.S. federal waters, including those off the coast of Alaska. These massive operations threaten the ocean ecosystems and wild fish populations that support our coastal communities.

Responsible, community-based, and appropriately scaled mariculture can and should be an integral part of local food systems. Alaska has tremendous opportunities for sustainable, community-driven mariculture. But we should not allow a few companies to steer the ship, ignoring the health of our communities and our planet.

The Arctic Improvement Act prohibits the federal government from allowing industrial-scale marine fish farms in federal waters. Alaska already protects state waters by banning fish farms within three miles, but just 3.1 miles away, the waters move into federal jurisdiction. We need the strong provisions included in the Arctic Improvement Act to ensure states like Alaska, which have wisely protected wild fish populations, do not suffer the devastation caused by industrial fish farms.

Additionally, Murkowski’s legislation sharpens the USDA’s vision when it comes to seafood, expands federal aid to commercial fishermen and processors, and requires labeling of genetically modified fish (also known as “frankenfish”) to help consumers make informed decisions. For a long time, seafood has been on the sidelines of the USDA’s farm bill, but the Arctic Improvement Act reminds policymakers that investments in America’s fishing communities are investments in our nation’s food security, cultural heritage, and ocean stewardship.

Alaskans are very particular about seafood. By recognizing the challenges facing our fisheries and taking proactive steps to address them, Murkowski has demonstrated her commitment to the people and place of Alaska.

Linda Behnken She lives in Sitka and divides her time between fishing and advocating for healthy oceans and sustainable fisheries.

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