Obama suggests moving NOAA to Interior
President Barack Obama has asked Congress for authority to execute a sweeping proposal to reorganize the Department of Commerce and several other federal agencies, including a proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA, which is responsible for fisheries management in U.S. federal waters, would be moved from the Commerce Department to the Interior Department under Obama’s plan, announced Jan. 13.
The U.S. Trade Representative, the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Import-Export Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Trade Development Agency would be consolidated into a single department along with the business and trade functions of the Commerce Department.
Sen. Mark Begich, chair of the Oceans Subcommittee that oversees NOAA, commended the president for making an effort to streamline government but stopped short of endorsing the move of NOAA to Interior and said he’d use his chairmanship to ask some “tough questions” about the proposal.
“With the current national debt and deficit, we need to make government leaner and smarter,” Begich said in a statement. “But I have some serious concerns about some of the details, especially the proposed transfer of (NOAA) to the Department of Interior.
“As producer of more than half of the nation’s seafood, the proper management of our fisheries is vital to thousands of jobs in Alaska and to protecting this precious resource. I’m not sure burying NOAA in an already over-burdened Interior is a good idea.”
Obama would require approval from Congress for the reorganization, and he asked for a vote with no amendments to his proposal.
If Congress approved it, one of Alaska’s senators would still have oversight of NOAA.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight of the Interior Department, and should the Republican Party take control of the Senate after the 2012 elections she would be in line for the chairmanship.
Murkowski said Congress needs to take a hard look at the president’s idea.
“Now more than ever, any proposal to move toward a smaller government needs to be welcomed for review,” she said in a statement. “However, there are a lot of details still vague in the president’s restructuring plans – and I question whether the president himself should be responsible for such an overhaul rather than Congress.”
Murkowski also noted the president’s reference to why NOAA is at Commerce rather than Interior in the first place. During his announcement, Obama said that NOAA was originally intended to be at the Interior Department when the agency was being crafted in 1970.
“If you’re wondering what the genesis of this was, apparently, it had something to do with President (Richard) Nixon being unhappy with his Interior secretary for criticizing him about the Vietnam War,” Obama said. “And so he decided not to put NOAA in what would have been a more sensible place.”
Wally Hickel was elected governor of Alaska in 1966 before Nixon appointed him Interior Secretary, where he would have been in position to influence fisheries policy in his home state if NOAA was placed his department.
Then in 1970, Hickel sent a letter to Nixon urging him to “listen to the youth” as controversy over the Vietnam war continued to rage. The letter was an embarrassment to Nixon when it became public and was published nationally.
Steven Eli Schanes, who passed away in 2010, was a special assistant to the Commerce Secretary and had advocated placing NOAA in that department while the White House preferred Interior.
According to an account written by Schanes in May 2008, he’d resigned himself to losing the battle about which cabinet department would oversee NOAA.
“Rescue came from the last conceivable source, the Secretary of the Interior himself,” Schanes wrote. “The next thing I knew, Secretary of Commerce (Maurice) Stans called me into his office to say that Presidential Assistant John Erlichman had just called, advising that the President had decided NOAA would be in the Commerce Department — and that I should get over to the White House immediately to initiate the necessary steps.”
Processors to drop MSC participation
The eight major Alaska salmon processors have elected to drop their participation in the Marine Stewardship Council certification program after October.
The processors — who account for about 72 percent of the Alaska salmon harvest — are: Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Alaska General Seafoods, E & E Foods, Kwikpak Fisheries and North Pacific Seafoods.
The processors gave notice to Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation earlier this month that they would no longer support the program. AFDF is the “client” for the MSC certification process, hired by the processors. AFDF took over the role in February 2010 after the state Department of Fish and Game relinquished the duties in 2008 and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute decided against it in December 2009.
“While individual companies requested their letters be held confidential, their reasons for announcing their phased pullout note that MSC certification has been welcome and valuable for more than a decade,” said AFDF Executive Director James Browning in a statement released Jan. 17. “MSC has offered independent affirmation of what the Alaska industry and fishery managers have held since statehood: that Alaska salmon fisheries are sustainably managed. However, the majority of these processors now feel it is time to redirect their resources toward a broader marketing message.”
The decision by processors means 2012 will be the last year Alaska salmon will carry the MSC logo, but Alaska does not lack for third-party affirmation of sustainable fisheries.
Alaska completed the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, certification in March 2011
“The Alaska seafood industry understands that third-party certification is a market tool that provides assurance to retailers and foodservice operators that seafood is responsibly managed,” said ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta in a statement. “For those customers who make the choice for certification, we are providing a third-party certification that equals or exceeds any method currently in the marketplace through the Alaska FAO-Based model.”
The ASMI press release stated on of the advantages of the FAO certification is cost, as there are no logo licensing fees as with MSC.
The decision by processors has no impact on the current MSC certification process under way for Pacific cod.
New study cites predation for sea lion decline
As a federal judge weighs the merits of wide fishing closures in the western Aleutian Islands to protect food sources for endangered Steller sea lions, a new study released Jan. 17 concludes predators such as killer whales are preventing recovery of the species.
Fishing groups and the state of Alaska sued National Marine Fisheries Service in December 2010 over the cod and mackerel closures in the far reaches of the Aleutian chain. The summary judgment hearing was Dec. 21, 2011, and no decision has yet been released.
NMFS decided to shut down fishing in an area half the size of Texas based on nutritional stress from fishing removals, but a tagging study conducted by researchers Markus Horning from Oregon State University and Jo-Ann Mellish of University of Alaska Fairbanks found a high rate of predation on juvenile Steller sea lions. Their study was conducted in the Gulf of Alaska, not the western Aleutians, and the researchers cautioned that their results were not conclusive for any region outside the study area.
From 2005 to 2011, 36 juvenile sea lions were captured and tagged in Prince William Sound and the Kenai Fjords. Twelve of the animals died during the study, and 11 were by predation with the 12th also believed to be from a partial dismemberment by a predator.
The buoyant, implanted tags measure several vital signs and communicate with NOAA satellites. A sudden change in ambient temperature followed by exposure to light indicates a predation event. Disease, fishing gear entanglements or starvation would have slower declines in vital signs.
There are an estimated 345 transient killer whales in the Gulf of Alaska/Bering Sea Aleutian Islands regions, and the study suggests that as adult populations of Steller sea lions have declined, apex predators such as the killer whale have turned to targeting juveniles.
“Young sea lions spend more time close to shore and the haul-outs where they are suckled by their mothers,” said Horning, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “They can be found more predictably by predators than can older animals and adult males. As the density of more ‘profitable’ adults declines, more juveniles may be targeted and never grow to adulthood, which makes rebuilding their populations problematic.”
The study also suggests that predators such as killer whales, salmon sharks and Pacific sleeper sharks could be responsible for not only the failure of Steller sea lions to recover, but also for recent and precipitous declines in fur seals and harbor seals.