Alaska’s senators open this year’s ComFish forums with wide-ranging legislative update


The federal legislative forum at ComFish opened with tributes to the late Congressman Don Young, who was also supposed to be part of the panel. Afterwards, however, the ongoing effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were top of mind for Alaska’s senators. Appearing via Zoom, Sen. Murkowski described the close ties between Alaska’s seafood industry and Ukraine.

“We have more than 2,200 temporary, seasonal workers from Ukraine, who at this time of year would be getting ready to join us for the salmon processing season,” she said.

Murkowski was uncertain how the conflict might disrupt those workers from obtaining H2B visas and filling summer processor jobs. However, she told the ComFish audience that Alaska salmon might also benefit Ukrainians in Europe who have been displaced by the Russian invasion. 

“We’re actually working with some in the Ukrainian Parliament to provide some of our surplus canned salmon,” she said. “You have people in Ukraine, you have refugees in need of humanitarian relief including food.”

Murkowski said her office has discussed that issue with the White House, although no decision has been made. Both she and Sen. Sullivan applauded President Biden’s executive order banning Russian seafood imports to the U.S., and believed still more could be done.

Russia has embargoed American fish and seafood products since 2014, when the U.S. imposed sanctions over its annexation of Crimea. Senators Sullivan and Murkowski introduced the U.S.-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act early last month that would ban Russian seafood in response. The legislation would also close loopholes on Russian seafood hitting the American market by way of Chinese processors. Sullivan said there’s new momentum for passage since the invasion.

“We finally have an opportunity to address it,” said Sullivan. “We’re doing it with the Biden administration in terms of an executive order, but we’re also trying to pass our legislation to make this permanent until we get an even level playing field in terms of seafood trade with the Russians, which we haven’t had for 7 years,”

The federal legislative forum covered infrastructure money heading to Alaska, increasing funds for research on dwindling salmon numbers across the state – and federal fixes to expediting payouts for fishermen through fishery disaster designations.

The senators also spent time discussing future conservation efforts for the proposed Pebble Mine site near Bristol Bay. The project’s permit was denied by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2020. Both senators said they support that decision, although long term environmental protections are largely out of their hands.

Thursday’s federal legislative update was the lead-off forum for this year’s ComFish, which includes over a dozen panels. The trade show continues through Saturday.

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