Senator Murkowski scores big bucks for Alaska fisheries and related programs — 

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill, which contains several priorities U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski secured for Alaska. As a member of this subcommittee, Murkowski included provisions to strengthen Alaska’s world class fisheries, improve Arctic navigation and infrastructure, and support for critical initiatives such as the National Sea Grant Program.

“The funds contained in this bill include huge successes that are vital and unique to Alaska,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. The focus given to these Alaskan priorities underscores the importance of developing Arctic infrastructure, marine and aviation operations, as well as our state’s fisheries, coastlines, and waters. I’d like to thank the Appropriations Committee members for recognizing the significance of this funding package and what it means to support Alaskan communities.”

Department of Commerce

  • Navigation, Observations and Positioning – Hydrographic Surveys Priorities/Contracts: Included language directing NOAA accelerate acquisition of survey data to complement its own internal data and expedite comprehensive charting, especially in backlogged regions like the Arctic. Also included language directing NOAA to efficiently conduct hydrographic surveys while taking into account the short seasons in the Arctic region.
    • “The Committee continues to be concerned with NOAA’s slow progress in reducing the backlog of hydrographic surveys for navigationally significant waters. Within the funds provided, the NOAA is directed to accelerate the acquisition of survey data and the preparation of charts needed to minimize risks associated with increased maritime traffic.”
    • “Hydrographic survey work in the Arctic is subject to shorter operating seasons than other coastal regions. The Committee believes Arctic surveys could be completed more efficiently through the use of local available resources and expertise. Therefore, NOAA is directed to award contracts for surveys as early in the year as possible to maximize the season. Also, NOAA should consider awarding adjoining areas to single providers to decrease cost.”
  • National Sea Grant Program: Maintained level funding for the extension, outreach activities, education, and research that will support the growing coastal community utilization of key Sea Grant services within their numerous focus areas. Also received continued funding for all Sea Grant Stem education and fellowship programs.
  • National Weather Service: Secured language directing the Weather Service to provide a report on staffing cuts in Alaska and how the Service plans to maintain or improve forecasting and communications around the Senate, especially in remote areas.
  • Operations, Research, and Facilities—National Data Buoy Center: Received funding to sustain operations and maintenance for NOAA’s national buoy network to ensure mariners traveling through Alaska and the Arctic have the necessary weather information to perform their jobs safely amidst changing weather conditions
  • Bowhead Whales: Provided funding for Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission ahead of 2018 International Whaling Commission negotiations:
    • “$720K to document bowhead whale health as may be required for efficient and human subsistence harvest, and to fulfill other US obligation as regulated by the International Whaling Commission.”
  • Other Ecosystem Programs – Integrated Ocean Acidification: Received level funding of $11 million for addressing ocean acidification.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles, & Other Species: Received $113.3 million to allow NOAA to promote species recovery while enabling sustainable economic activity. The increase will enable NMFS to reduce the current consultation backlog and expedite permitting and review of public and private development projects that benefit the Nation’s economy and create new jobs.

Sustainable Management of Alaska’s Fisheries

  • Senator Murkowski supported robust funding levels for:
    • Data collection, surveys and assessments: Received $164.7 million, an increase from last year’s funding level.
    • Regional councils and fisheries commissions: Received robust funding of $35.8 million.
    • Electronic monitoring and reporting: Secured language directing NMFS to prioritize EM/ER implementations in the FY18 and to expedite to the fullest extent proactively the transition to full EM/ER. In addition, the budget received an additional $3 million for collaborative partnerships to implement EM/ER programs in consultation with industry, as was included in the FY17.
    • Expanding Annual Stock Assessment: Increased funding to improve the quality of data used to establish annual catch levels.
  • Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund: Maintained level funding of $65 million.
  • Salmon Management Activities – Pacific Salmon Treaty: This year, funded at $14 million, a $2 million increase from FY17. These funds are needed to complete negotiations with Canada and to implement treaty terms across the Northwest states.
  • Fisheries Disaster Funding: Senator Murkowski cosponsored an amendment with Senators Merkley and Feinstein to fund $150 million in recent West Coast fishery disasters. The amendment was withdrawn without a vote, but commitments were made by the Committee to continue working to fund fishery disasters.
  • Saltonstall-Kennedy Funds (SK): Secured language which states that at least 15% of all grant funds must be spent on the competitive grant program, and of those funds, at least 80% must be awarded externally and not within NOAA as is often the case. This creates more opportunities for Alaskans to be beneficiaries of SK grants.
  • Fisheries Finance Program: Received increased opportunities for vessels owners to modify existing vessels to improve fishing vessel safety by offering loans to help the fleet modernize and provide significant economic benefits to shipyards and support industries.
  • NOAA Fleet Reduction Program: Secured language requiring the agency to provide technical assistance in a timely manner after the bill becomes law that would authorize a more streamlined process for buyback implementation and loans to better benefit Alaskan fisheries.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service – Alaska Region: Secured language encouraging region offices to locate research staff within their respective research regions to the greatest extent practicable.