Alaska's longtime Republican Congressman Don Young has yet again introduced the Keep Fin Fish Free Act, legislation prohibiting the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Commerce from authorizing commercial finfish aquaculture operations in the Federal Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) unless specifically authorized by Congress.
Young said the state's residents are opposed to what he described as "hatchery fisheries" in the state.
"We don't want that. We want our fish to be wild," he said Thursday during a hearing held by the US House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.
Young said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should be focusing on issues with Alaska's ocean, and why fishermen are seeing fewer kings and other salmon during summer fishing seasons.
"I know we’re not catching like we used to, because they’re not there," he said.
"We have to figure this out. Is it climate change, are they moving north, is there a nuclear sub stuck out there?"
Young tried passing the measure in 2019 as well, but it died in the House committee it was assigned to that year.
Alaska farms lots of salmon already
For years, Alaska officials have been resistant to offshore aquaculture, fearing the negative impacts it could have on wild, commercial fisheries.
However, the state does has 30 hatcheries operated mostly by private nonprofit (PNP) corporations made up of commercial salmon fishermen in southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Kodiak.
The hatcheries are used primarily for pink and chum salmon, and do not grow fish to adulthood, but incubate fertilized eggs and release resulting juveniles back into the wild, which eventually are harvested by the state's commercial fishing fleet.
In 2019, hatchery-produced salmon accounted for 25 percent of Alaska's total salmon harvest. Roughly 50 million hatchery salmon were caught and were worth an estimated $118 million (€99 million), or 18 percent of the state's total salmon harvest value.
Fish farming is banned in Alaska, but the state's jurisdiction extends only to waters three miles offshore. Beyond that limit is federal waters, and the state ban does not apply.
No Biden position on offshore aquaculture
Last year, former US President Donald Trump signed an executive order that, among other things, aimed to boost the domestic seafood industry by streamlining aquaculture development offshore.
Biden has issued his own executive order that could prohibit commercial fishing across at least 30 percent of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by 2030. But he hasn't yet specifically addressed where his administration stands on Trump's offshore aquaculture order.
During the hearing, the congressman also introduced legislation prohibiting the "shipping, transporting, offering for sale, selling, or purchasing a genetically altered finfish," outside of its use for scientific purposes.
The measure is aimed at US land-based AquaBounty, which recently went to market with its first harvest of genetically modified salmon. The company has been developing the fish for nearly two decades.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has also been fighting the sale of genetically modified salmon in the United States. In 2019, she inserted a measure into a large spending bill that would require the salmon to be clearly labeled for consumers.