Solutions to Alaska's fishery problems include better coordinated research toward protecting oceans and fishery habitat, and not just looking for someone to blame, Oceana North Pacific Region Director Jim Ayers said today. Ayers’ statement came in response to an August 27 press release in which Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) rejected Oceana’s action to get the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to complete a congressionally mandated report on marine mammal bycatch. In his press statement, Murkowski blamed Ayers and other Alaskans, and suggested the answer to Alaska's fisheries problems is to hire a “fish advisor” and fight Oceana in court.
In a letter to Senator Murkowski, Ayers asked Murkowski why he would object to getting NMFS to complete a required report that Congress asked for. And why he would stop NMFS from forming “take reduction teams,” that include fishermen as required by law, to develop strategies of how to reduce the injury and mortality of marine mammals while maintaining our fisheries.
"Our Oceans and fisheries are in trouble. We need NMFS to become NASA-like in research and management with a focus on the health of our Oceans," said Ayers. "We need Senator Murkowski in D.C. doing his job, getting the research, science, management and innovations we need to manage for the health of our Oceans and maintenance of crucial fisheries. The answers to our fisheries problems are sound ocean research science, good management, and public participation."
Oceana filed a lawsuit to get NMFS to complete a report to Congress regarding the Marine Mammal Protection Act requirement that NMFS have research and a plan of how to reduce the injury and mortality of Marine Mammals to “insignificant levels approaching zero… Zero Rate Mortality Goal (ZRMG).” This report was due to Congress by April 2001, but has not been completed.
In addition to completing the long overdue ZRMG report to Congress, the Oceana action also seeks to convene the “take reduction teams” of fishermen, NMFS scientists, conservationists and other Marine scientists to develop strategies of how to maintain the fisheries and reduce the take of marine mammals.
Oceana has no intention of attacking Alaska fishermen or shutting down fishing, Ayers said. Oceana continues to publicly support sustainable Alaska salmon fishing and is fighting to stop Atlantic salmon farming that puts wild Alaska salmon fisheries at risk. We believe that Alaska fishermen want the same thing we do: healthy oceans and fisheries. We intend to work with them to accomplish this common goal.
"We are working to change the way oceans are managed and get Congress to structure and fund such an effort," Ayers said. "The system is broken and we need to work together to fix it, and stop the political posturing. Political brinkmanship confuses the issue. Apparently Murkowski has no real solution and is not interested in bringing people together to solve ocean and fishery problems."
Oceana efforts, including the recent lawsuit, are designed to get the research and management we need to maintain our fisheries and overall health of our Ocean. We absolutely believe that there can be methods and means to fish while maintaining Ocean life including mammals, seabirds, coral, sponge, fish and their habitat. Our actions are to bring reform to the way our Oceans are being managed.
NMFS is the federal agency charged with the mission to protect the health of our Oceans while responsibly utilizing resources like fish. But in order for NMFS to do the right job, the right way they must be encouraged, funded and allowed to carry out their responsibilities. This includes Congress doing its job providing the structure and funding necessary to fulfill Ocean Research and Management.
Senator Murkowski’s job is to get NMFS the resources they need so Alaska fishermen, subsistence users, and sport and recreation users can maintain their way of Life. "We need Congress to reform the way they fund and manage our Oceans," Ayers said. "Frank Murkowski can blame me all he wants, but if I had his job in the U.S. Senate, I would be doing a heck of a lot more to protect our oceans and fisheries than talking about hiring some 'fish advisor' and threatening to take people to court who are fighting for the health of our Oceans and fisheries."
Oceana is an international non-profit organization protecting the world’s oceans.
For more information, visit www.oceansatrisk.com
Jim Ayers, Oceana North Pacific Region (907) 586-4050
Sylvia Liu, Oceana, Washington, DC (202) 833-3900
Charlotte Gray, Oceana, Washington, DC (202) 833-3900