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By Senator Mark Begich:

As chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries, I have the chance to brag about Alaska’s fisheries.

Alaska produces more than half nation’s wild fish. Fishing is important to our economy, culture and lifestyle. While our fisheries are managed by complex rules with high standards, this is why Alaska is known for quality seafood and sustainable stocks.

That’s why I was offended by the recent “We don’t farm like this” video produced by World Wide Fund for Nature Canada (WWF) in support of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The short animated video grossly misrepresents the harvesting methods of longline, purse seine, and trawl fisheries and smears them as unsustainable.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has been named this year’s “behavioral health champion” by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

The organization’s senior vice president for public policy, Charles Ingoglia, said Begich was honored “for his persistent, passionate and powerful leadership on behalf of individuals with mental illnesses and addiction, as well as organizations that care for them.”

Begich and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., co-sponsored the Mental Health First Aid bill, which is designed to help identify mental illness and safely address crisis situations.

But with questions over the group’s rationale — including what Sen. Mark Begich called a “shifting goal post” on the definition of sustainability — and increased costs to buy into the program, many Alaska fisheries have begun switching to another certification program.

That decision had ripple effects. Big buyers such as Wal-Mart, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Defense found that their own policies recommended they buy and serve only fish with the MSC “ecolabel.”

On Tuesday, Begich called numerous stakeholders to a U.S. Senate hearing on seafood sustainability certification, hoping to explore ways the future certification efforts could benefit the seafood industry and consumers.

Some change has been coming. This week, the U.S. General Services Administration updated its guidelines to remove the third-party certification as a guideline for purchasing food for federal facilities. Previously, the guidelines recommended that any seafood purchased should have the MSC certification. The change gives agencies such as the National Park Service and Department of Defense more leeway in purchasing seafood.

A hearing on the effects of Arctic climate change Friday shed light on the plight of dozens of villages across Northwest Alaska.

Senator Mark Begich met with tribal council representatives, scientists and federal officials in Downtown Anchorage, and took testimony about the effects of erosion, rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns. The information is both scientific and anecdotal.

Melanie Bahnke, president of Kawerak, Inc., said her corporation has collected eyewitness accounts from hundreds of hunters and fisherman who’ve spent their lives in bush Alaska. They report higher shorelines, softer ice and stronger storms. Thomas Ravens, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said Northwestern Alaska is particularly sensitive to climate change: On the low, wet Yukon-Kuskowkwim Delta, Ravens said even a 40 cm sea level rise could create a brackish wet sedge meadow reaching 7 km inland.

Gottlieb said the new agreements allow for Native and non-Native veterans to receive primary care at non-VA clinics across the state. She said the challenge is getting the word out to veterans that live in rural Alaska and making sure they identify themselves as veterans when they seek care.

Begich, who serves on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, questioned how long it will take to determine the positive and negative aspects of the program, such as whether or not all the groups involved are effectively communicating.

He added that the option is a “great addition” to the health care system in Alaska for veterans who may otherwise have to fly to Anchorage or Seattle for covered treatment they could have received closer to home.

Gottlieb said the Southcentral Foundation is proficient at collecting data to make any adjustments deemed necessary to streamline the program, but that it will also take time to raise awareness about the program itself.

Who in the Alaska Republican Party made up a fake fundraising invitation that led a national Republican group to attack U.S. Sen. Mark Begich? Or was the invitation fabricated by someone else? Those are questions being asked by the campaign to re-elect U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska after the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a guilt-by-association press release, blasting Begich for raising funds in state last week with that “cap-and-trade liberal,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York.

Only one problem: There were no fundraisers with Gillibrand, the Begich campaign says. Now the national group has apologized, sort of. But it says it won’t retract its statement because it argues the essence of the material — that Gillibrand is working to put Begich back in office — is true.

He was spot on in his understanding of the problems and concerns expressed by others at this meeting regarding the federal management of fisheries around Alaska. He also showed a good understanding of many state concerns, but stayed clear of any impression of possible interference with state authority or management control. Overall, I was impressed with his knowledge of the fisheries issues and his questions indicated he had a firm grasp of how to approach correcting many of those problems.

As the meeting was wrapping up, I thanked Sen. Begich for his stand in the Senate regarding Second Amendment voting issues this past spring. As you may recall, Sen. Begich was one of only a few Democratic senators who refused to vote for anti-gun actions being demanded by President Obama. All the pending legislation failed to pass. As a result of his stand, Begich has now been targeted by the anti-gun crowd in the upcoming 2014 national election.

Sen. Begich acknowledged my comments and immediately, as with the fisheries issues, went to the heart of the matter. He said that major improvements in the mandatory reporting of mentally impaired individuals to the national database for firearms background checks needs to happen, along with a major effort on improving treatment for these impaired individuals. He also stated that strict enforcement of existing firearms laws should be implemented before any new firearms legislation is introduced. I couldn’t agree more.

An international food contractor doing millions of dollars in business with the federal government says it will consider a request from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for alternatives to sourcing Alaska seafood from a single certification program.

The offer to continue dialogue on the matter with Begich came Aug. 22 from George Chavel, president and chief executive officer of Sodexo USA, which contracts with several federal agencies and a number of private businesses for millions of dollars annually to serve meals to millions of people, from military mess halls and hospitals to many private entities.

Chavel was responding to a letter in which Begich urged Sodexo to reconsider its policy of sourcing seafood certified by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council. Begich noted that while Alaska wild salmon is widely regarded as one of the world’s best managed fisheries, processors handling these fish had dropped the MSC certification program out of frustration with shifting standards of the program, increased cost of certification and logo license fees.

China is Alaska’s largest export market, and the country’s ambassador to the U.S. says it would like to do more business with the Last Frontier.

Tuesday Ambassador Cui Tiankai and Senator Mark Begich spoke about building a stronger business relationship. The ambassador expressed great interest in buying more energy.

The ambassador said he loves Alaska’s seafood and encourages the state to export more overseas.


At our request, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn traveled to King Cove in June to see the need for the road first-hand. He got the true Alaska experience: his flight out of King Cove was grounded by bad weather, so he was forced to return to Cold Bay on a long and turbulent fishing boat ride.

Now it’s up to Secretary Jewell, because federal law requires her to determine whether the road is in the public interest. She can side with those who believe King Cove residents should face the Hobson’s choice of continuing to live with unacceptable risks to their health or leaving their homes in a thriving commercial fishing community with the area’s only deepwater port.

She can side with those who claim the road harms habitat, even though King Cove residents have been good stewards of the area for generations.

Or Secretary Jewell can instead be an inclusive, creative problem solver who strikes a balance in the public interest: protecting human health and advancing human dignity as she adds valuable land to the refuge.

We hope Secretary Jewell will see that too many people have suffered and died to delay this life-saving road.