Cantwell Leads Charge to Preserve Key Fisheries Programs in Federal Budget

Administration’s FY14 budget would end fishing safety program, slash Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund by 23 percent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged U.S. Senate appropriators examining the federal budget to continue investing in three programs vital to Washington state’s $1.6 billion commercial fishing industry and $10.8 billion coastal economy.

Cantwell called for the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations to support ocean acidification monitoring systems, fishing vessel safety research and salmon recovery initiatives in a series of letters sent with her colleagues. The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal requested a 23 percent cut in salmon recovery investments and eliminated a life-saving fishing safety research program.

Salmon recovery

In a letter sent Friday, Cantwell and a bipartisan coalition of six senators urged the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations to support the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Pacific salmon management programs. The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal contained $27 million in cuts to these programs, including a $15 million decrease in the PCSRF – a 23 percent cut.

In their letter, the senators wrote, “PCSRF supports the conservation and recovery of Pacific salmon across the rivers, watersheds, and coastal habitats they thrive in throughout Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and California. Over the past 10 years, NMFS, states, tribes, and local project managers have developed an integrated approach to track progress, measure performance, and ensure accountability of the PCSRF program. … Today, over 920,000 acres of essential fish habitat have been restored and over 7,100 miles of stream have been opened for fish passage.”

Thousands of Washington state jobs depend on healthy, sustainable salmon populations. A 2010 Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife study found that commercial fisheries, after processing and distributing their stocks, contributed $1.6 billion to the local economy. The PCSRF has supported restoration of 34,000 acres of salmon habitat in Washington state over the past decade.

Last month, Cantwell expressed concern over an amendment to eliminate the PCSRF, and has championed the fund since she was elected to the Senate. The PCSRF was established by Congress in 2000 to protect, restore and conserve Pacific salmon populations and habitats.

Ocean acidification

Cantwell and 13 of her colleagues also urged the committee to support the Administration’s budget request of additional support for ocean acidification monitoring systems and research that have proved critical to shellfish farms in Washington state and around the nation. The shellfish industry supports 3,200 jobs and $270 million in economic activity in Washington state.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS) and Integrated Ocean Acidification Program allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time with sensors and buoys. With data from these sensors and buoys, shellfish farmers can avoid filling shellfish tanks with overly acidic seawater and protect their harvests. The Ocean Acidification Program is also responsible for critical ocean acidification research and implementation of the Cantwell-championed Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, which created a comprehensive national ocean acidification research and monitoring program.

“The real time data these instruments provide has made a huge difference in the industry,” wrote the senators. “After ocean acidification sensors were deployed near major hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest, young oyster productivity rose from 20 percent of historical levels to 70 percent, helping support 3,200 family wage jobs in Washington state’s coastal economies alone.”

Studies have shown a connection between ocean acidification and high mortality rates among young oysters and other shellfish. Recent studies suggest that ocean acidity could also impact the health of our salmon and crab industries in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The current rate of ocean acidification is higher than at any time in at least the last 300 million years.

Fishing safety

Cantwell and four senators also urged the committee to reject the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the life-saving National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) fishing safety research program. NIOSH has worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, fishing industry and safety equipment manufacturers to identify and study the causes of fishing-related deaths. With this information, action can be taken to reduce threats and minimize the risks workers face in the fishing industry.

In Alaska and Washington, NIOSH has helped save lives with efforts leading to improved personal floatation devices and watertight vessel doors, targeted safety initiatives in the most dangerous fisheries, and enhanced ‘man overboard’ training materials. Commercial fishing has long been recognized as the most dangerous occupation in the United States.

“A combination of data collection, gear innovation, and outreach lead to exemplary success in one of the most high-risk United States fisheries: the Bering Sea Crab fishery,” wrote the senators. “NIOSH research led to the development of stability and safety checks on Bering Sea crab vessels, which in part resulted in a 60% decline in the fatality rate. A 2006 National Academy of Sciences report found the NIOSH team ‘executed its research according to how an ideal program would operate.’ By engaging fishermen and vessel owners they designed cost-efficient plans which increase fishing safety without imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens on the industry.”