Fisheries Disaster Fundingby Senator Lisa Murkowski
Posted on 2013-01-28
MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, the bill we just passed out of the
Senate, a bill to aid the victims of Superstorm Sandy, is important. It
is important when we are faced with a disaster--whether it is a
hurricane, whether it is an earthquake, whether it is a drought,
whether it is a flood--that we step forward and find those ways that we
can help citizens who have faced immeasurable loss. The effort that has
gone back and forth between two bodies now, and will, hopefully, move
forward, is one which will certainly help to address the needs of those
families who lost so much in Superstorm Sandy.
I think we all recognize this was not the only disaster this country faced last year. In my State of Alaska we faced a fish disaster. For those of you who are from States that do not rely on your fisheries as a source of income, a source of jobs or a source of daily sustenance, you might think: Fish disasters; well, that is not really much to talk about. That is not a true disaster.
In my State, when fisheries have declined to the extent we have seen--the loss of the Chinook salmon on the Yukon River, the Kuskokwim River, the Upper Cook Inlet--this has a dramatic impact on our State's economy, a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of so many Alaskans. Whether they be commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, our subsistence- based fisheries, our fisheries communities, those businesses that are dependent on our salmon fisheries, these were all impacted this past year.
As I had gone around the State, basically from about midsummer through the end of the year, everywhere I went, whether I was in an urban center such as Anchorage, Homer, or down in Seward, up in the Matanuska Valley, or out in the rural parts of the State up along the Yukon, out along the Kuskokwim out in the southwest, people were talking about two things: People were talking about our cost of energy because our energy costs remained the highest in the Nation, but they were also talking about fish. Pretty basic stuff: fuel, fish, and food. When we had a disaster this summer, it was an imperative around our State.
We, in September of this past year, had an official declaration from the Secretary of Commerce--actually the Acting Secretary of Commerce, Rebecca Blank--that recognized this fish disaster, and this is a disaster that is statutorily authorized by section 308 of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and section 31 of the Magnuson- Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
These are designations that are statutorily authorized. These are not earmarks. They are not to be labeled as pork or something special for an area. These are disasters subject to a statutory authorization, a process that has been clearly laid out. They are authorized in law for fish failures that require affirmative action from the Secretary of Commerce. The Secretary has taken that action. Congress then needs to do its part by funding for these disasters.
I mentioned at the outset that some of my colleagues might not appreciate the importance of these fish disasters. But, again, these disasters are no less important than disasters for which we provide for other industries, such as drought disaster or drought assistance for our farmers. I think the Acting Secretary, when she signed these fisheries designations, recognized them for essentially what they are: fish droughts, fish droughts in our rivers and our oceans. She responded to the fisheries disasters not only in my State of Alaska, but she also moved forward with disaster determinations for Rhode Island, for New York, for Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Mississippi. The disaster declaration the Acting Secretary advanced opens the door, then, for the financial assistance from the Federal Government.
You might notice those funds were not included in this disaster relief bill. That does not mean I will back down from attempting to do my best to make sure the disaster that Alaska faced with its fisheries, and that so many of our other States faced with their fisheries, that these needs will not be addressed.
We didn't advance it in this package. It is important that the Sandy provision move forward, and that is why I eventually cast my vote in support of it. I know many of my colleagues--the Senator from Rhode Island is with me tonight. I know the Senator from New Hampshire is very concerned about it. The Senator from Maine is very concerned about it. I think it is fair to say we will continue our efforts to ensure the disasters that our fishermen have faced will be addressed as is statutorily provided in law. We will work to find that funding to make sure that disasters, however they present themselves in this country-- whether it is storm, flood, drought, hurricane, or earthquake--are addressed.
I commit to working with my colleagues to continue to find those sources of funding so we address these revenues.
[[Page S324]] I note that my colleague from Rhode Island is here, and I know he too wishes to address this important issue.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.