Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 124
03/21/2005 01:00 PM RESOURCES
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HJR 15-OPEN OCEAN AQUACULTURE CO-CHAIR SAMUELS announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 15, Relating to open ocean aquaculture in the federal exclusive economic zone. IAN FISK, Staff to Representative Bill Thomas, Alaska State Legislature, said there is draft federal legislation that would allow open ocean aquaculture. The fishing industry has numerous concerns, he said, including disease transmission, antibiotics, damage to the environment by anoxic conditions created by overfeeding, health of farmed fish to consumers, escapes into the natural environment of non-native species, and use of genetically modified organisms. He added that there are socio- economic concerns about impacts to existing fisheries and the communities and businesses that depend on them. Mr. Fisk said the federal exclusive economic zone as all federal waters from 3 miles to the 200-mile limit. He said Alaska's fisheries are soundly managed now for sustainability and maximum resource value. Alaskans are the primary participants in the state's fisheries, and much of the economic benefits stay in the state and spread through communities, local businesses, and state government. MR. FISK said the legislature banned fin fish farming in state waters in 1990, and HJR 15 refers to federal waters. Since 1990 the international fish farming industry has caused harm to the state's fisheries, but "we are starting to see the benefits of sticking to our guns," because Alaska has carved out a niche in the world market, which is producing better fish prices based on Alaska's natural and healthy fish products. "We've made a name for ourselves," he said. 2:15:49 PM MR. FISK said the committee substitute (CS) adds a resolve that the legislature opposes open ocean aquaculture for fin fish and predator shellfish in the waters off Alaska, and it urges Congress to prohibit the use of genetically modified fish anywhere in the United States exclusive economic zone. The CS also states support for the regional fisheries management councils, and requests that the councils be granted authority over any proposals regarding open ocean aquaculture in federal waters. 2:16:52 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to adopt CS HJR 15(FSH) version 24- LS0631\Y, Utermohle, 3/21/05, as a work draft. There being no objection, it was so ordered. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked why, on page 3, line 9, the resolution requests a legislative environmental impact statement (EIS), if it is already required by law. MR. FISK said the Administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service has said that an EIS will not be required. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO pointed out the sentence in the resolution that prohibits genetically modified fish, "what would happen if we wound up with devastating diseases to the entire stock and the virtual elimination of any kind of fishery, but it was possible, with the introduction of a gene, to build some resistance into the fish. This prohibits us from saving our own fishery," he said. MR. FISK said Alaska's fish stocks are very biologically diverse and, in the case of salmon, they are very abundant and ubiquitous, so there is a very small risk for such an event. The bigger risk, he said, is if we allow genetically modified organisms into net pens that are prone to failure. He added that the introduction of unnatural fish is the biggest threat to natural stock. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO asked what was prone to failure. MR. FISH clarified that net pens fail. "We've seen the escape of lots of farmed fish from farms in British Columbia. If we allowed genetically-modified organisms, in my opinion, we're just playing with fire," he said. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said his concern is that "the way biological systems go, you introduce a predator, and they're very efficient at what they do, and especially when you have this incredible food supply. If, indeed, we had something that was so attractive to a predator, that we were simply losing so many fish that there wasn't any sense to fish any more, but we could make the fish bigger so they couldn't eat it, or make the fish resistant to a bacteria or a virus ... so they wouldn't die from it, wouldn't that be detrimental if we said we can't save the fish by saving them? That's the concern that I see in that one statement," he said. MR. FISK said Representative Gatto's concern is "so nightmarish" he doesn't know how to respond to it. "If we get to a point where our natural stocks are to that level of depletion, I would hate to think that we would have to engineer the entire response to it," he said. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said pike are effective predators; "they're good at what they do and they enjoy doing it. If, indeed, we had a pike-like situation where we're losing our stocks like crazy, and somebody says there isn't any way to save these guys" unless we genetically modify them, then, "nightmarish or not, we're making legislation that could make a nightmare," he said. CO-CHAIR RAMRAS asked how much a wild Alaska fish costs compared to a farmed fish. MR. FISK said he guesses wild Alaska salmon retails for 40 to 50 percent more than farmed fish. That is just salmon, he said, and any other number of species could be farmed. Alaska's fish get a premium price because of the name association and the inherent quality that Alaska's system produces. "Our whole management system is considered world class," he said, and farmed Alaska fish will confuse the market place. CO-CHAIR RAMRAS asked the difference between a hatchery and a fish farm, and if a hatchery were to keep fish until they were bigger, would they be considered farmed fish. MR. FISK said hatcheries only assist fish through a very early stage of their lives, and they spend their entire adult lives as any other fish would. CO-CHAIR RAMRAS asked if farmed fish are kept in pens. MR. FISK said farmed fish have to be kept in pens and fed until they are marketable. CO-CHAIR RAMRAS said the Douglas Island Pink and Chum (DIPAC) fish hatchery in Juneau sees a two to three percent return of their fish, and he asked if farmed fish have a higher return. MR. FISK said, "Definitely. The fish don't have to compete and behave like a real fish, they just sit there ... like salmon cows, fattening up, living close to each other, festering and getting diseased, instead of being like a real fish out in the ocean competing and becoming robust like our own wild fish." 2:27:21 PM PAULA TERREL, Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC), said she fishes commercially, but she is representing the AMCC, which works with coastal communities - trying to keep Alaskans fishing. Most board members are commercial fishermen, she added. The AMCC supports CSHJR 15(FSH) and would like one change. On page 2, line 28, she said, it would be stronger to remove "in the waters off Alaska," because farmed fish from other areas can have a negative impact on Alaska fisheries. 2:29:49 PM MS. TERREL said a company has requested permission from the Food and Drug Administration to supply fish farms with genetically modified fish. A genetically modified fish would be an invasive species, she said. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said if global warming is real and raises water temperatures, and salmon want cold water, "and they start to get away from us and start moving further and further north ... and we start losing the volumes of fish we have now" and a company says it can make the salmon tolerant to warmer water by genetic modification, "and you could lose your whole industry, or you could do this, would you do it?" he asked. MS. TERREL said genetic modification modifies the fish's hormones, "I don't know that you are modifying their resistance to disease or other things," she said. The water is getting warmer, and salmon are still here, she added. Alaska has world- class fishery management and she doesn't think Representative Gatto's scenario would happen. 2:32:23 PM REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER said salmon are sensitive to water temperatures, but the way they navigate to their spawning stream is with the magnetic pole and through their sense of smell. 2:33:14 PM JERRY MCCUNE, United Fishermen of Alaska, said "[someone is] putting in for a permit for genetic modified that's shot up with hormones so it makes a king salmon huge but its head stays [really] teeny so the brain doesn't catch up with the body." He said the reason the hatcheries started was to complement Alaska's wild stocks. It has nothing to do with "genetic modified," which has been banned in some states and in the European Union. It has nothing to do with replacing wild stocks, he said. Hatcheries raise their fish to a certain size, and if they held them too long, the timing would be wrong, he added. Holding them for too long introduces disease and other problems. "They have to go out at a certain time so they'll come back at a certain time," he said. 2:35:17 PM REPRESENTATIVE GATTO questioned Ms. Terrel's statement that modifying genes only results in a hormonal change. MR. MCCUNE said, yes, "to make a fish grow [really] fast," so growing a king salmon takes one year instead of the natural five years. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO said it is curious that genetic modification only affects hormones. "You can genetically modify corn and everything else, and make it grow bigger, and it's not hormones, it's something else," he said. MR. MCCUNE said, "You change the genetics. Fish have certain genetics, and they go back to certain streams because ... they have these two bones in there that [have] a polar pull that goes back to certain water. If you have genetic modified fish, all you do is grow a fish fast, you're not going to replace genetic modified fish to help our wild stocks, because you would be changing the whole gene pool of the wild stocks. Each stock has a unique gene pool," he said. 2:37:26 PM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON moved to adopt Amendment 1, as follows: Page 3, line 9, after "by" Delete "law" Insert "the National Environmental Policy Act" REPRESENTATIVE SEATON said he wants to make sure that open ocean aquaculture is in conformance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. There being no objection, Amendment 1 carried. 2:39:59 PM CO-CHAIR SAMUELS asked Mr. Fisk about removing the words "off Alaska" from the resolution. MR. FISK said he would not mind banning aquaculture from all federal waters. "It is up to the committee," he said. REPRESENTATIVE CRAWFORD said he thinks it's a "dandy amendment." CO-CHAIR SAMUELS asked if Amendment 2 reads as follows: Page 2, line 28, after "shellfish" Delete "in the waters off Alaska" Amendment 2 was considered as moved, and there being no objection, Amendment 2 carried. CO-CHAIR RAMRAS moved to report CSHJR 15(FSH) version 24- LS0631\Y as amended with individual recommendations. Hearing no objection, CSHJR 15(RES) was reported out of the House Resources Standing Committee.