Begich Announces Two Bills to Strengthen Nation’s Seafood Industry
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich introduced on Wednesday two bills to strengthen the nation’s seafood industry by addressing workforce needs within the industry and cracking down on the problem of mislabeled and fraudulent seafood on the market.
Begich, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, and the Coast Guard, announced the bills the same day he stopped by the International Boston Seafood Show where he visited with Alaskans displaying their famous seafood products at the world renowned show.
Sen. Begich’s first bill seeks to put an end to the influx of mislabeled and fraudulent seafood entering the marketplace and hurting Alaska fishermen and consumers alike.
The bill will improve consumer protection by ensuring commercially distributed seafood is properly labeled and meets applicable federal food quality and safety requirements.
“I’m putting the seafood bandits out of business. Passing off farmed salmon as wild salmon and selling illegal Russian crab by labeling it Alaska crab is dishonest. This is a serious problem for Alaska’s honest, hard-working fishermen as well as a public health concern and problem for sustainable fishery management,” Begich said. “This bill gives government agencies better tools to deal with bandits who take part in the $20 billion illegal and unregulated high seas pirate fishing industry.”
Begich’s SAFE Seafood bill would:
- Strengthen cooperation between seafood inspection arms of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
- Toughen up labeling requirements; and
- Improve the traceability of seafood products.
Begich’s bill honors the legacy of the late Daniel Inouye, the Hawaiian Senator who originally championed similar legislation. It is modeled after legislation Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced last week in the House of Representatives,
H2O Seafood Processing Visa:
Citing Alaska’s unique set of needs, Sen. Begich is seeking an important fix to the recent restrictions on the Summer Work Travel (J-1 visa) program which has created problems for seafood processors, especially in remote areas.
The H2O visa would create a separate visa category for the seafood processing industry. The bill requires certification that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, and available to do the seasonal work.
“Seasonal jobs in the seafood industry have traditionally been tough to fill,” Begich said. “With a national debate underway about immigration reform, this bill will address the specific workforce needs within the seafood industry. I’ll be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the coming weeks to see if this bill can be included in a broader immigration package.”
Begich said he will also be working with labor leaders on the issue of seafood workers and visas.