Senators Pass Bill out of Committee to Give Fishermen Voice in Grant Process, Boost U.S. Seafood

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, S. 3087, the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act, introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), passed unanimously out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The Saltonstall Kennedy (SK) Act, enacted in 1954, provides funding for fisheries research and development. These funds are derived from a portion of fishery import duties. To inform how these funds are allocated, Congress authorized a group of experts from different segments of the fishing industry to advise on commercial fishing problems and needs. Following a 1972 law, the original American Fisheries Advisory Committee was disbanded.  

As part of the S-K Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) administers a grant program. In the Committee’s absence, the National Marine Fisheries Service decides, by its own criteria, who receives grants. In some cases, the priorities of the fishing industry do not match those of NMFS. The American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act would bring back the board of experts, with members chosen regionally and across all sectors of the fishing industry, to bring the industry back into the process of identifying needs and funding priorities.

In 2016, NMFS issued 50 grants worth $11 million.

"Alaska is a superpower of seafood. In order to maintain that status, markets around the world need to know about the superior quality of our fish and the unrivaled sustainability of our fisheries,” said Senator Sullivan. “With a reestablished advisory committee, we will boost our seafood marketing and research by focusing federal grants on the actual priorities and needs of all segments of our commercial fishing industry: the fishermen, vessel owners, distributors and processors. With a revitalized fishery marketing program, we can expect to have more good-paying jobs for Alaskans in our state’s largest employing industry.”

“The Saltonstall-Kennedy grants provide critical funding for fisheries research and development,” said Senator Cantwell. “Transparency is essential to improving the SK Grant program and meeting the needs of our fishing economies. We need to reinstate the industry committee so fishermen have a seat at the table.”

“While Alaskans know that our seafood is world-class, this Advisory Committee will help spread the word across the globe,” said Senator Murkowski. “It will give Alaska’s seafood an edge in a very competitive world market. This bill makes important progress to improve marketing and research for American seafood products, providing a boost to a critical economic driver for our nation. It will also provide oversight, by fishermen, on how NOAA issues Saltsonstall-Kennedy grants.”