U.S. Sen. Mark Begich attended Kodiak’s ComFish trade show Saturday, telling an audience of fishermen and those with fishing interests he will combat the perception that Alaska seafood is somehow tainted by radiation spilling out of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.
Begich said buyers are becoming concerned about the issue because they aren’t sure what the radioactivity means for Alaska fish products, despite reports from the Food and Drug Administration that there cannot be any effects on Alaska fish stocks (see Page 5).
“There is no question we know there are buyers now getting a little nervous about what is that impact,” Begich said. “So we need to make it very declarative that there is no impact.”
In a letter sent Thursday to President Barack Obama outlining the problem and requesting federal assistance, Begich pointed to other sources of confusion that have increased the worry his office is hearing.
“Exaggerated media reports of possible contamination of seafood from the broader North Pacific and even Alaska have raised concerns among European buyers,” Begich wrote. “While none of the claims to date has any substance, even faulty public perception can affect markets.”
Begich said the letter specifically asks that someone at a high level within the federal government make it very clear that Alaska does not have a contaminated fish product, whether that person be from the Food and Drug Administration, State Department, Environmental Protection Agency or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Credible scientific information about actual contamination levels and risk is necessary to respond to fears and rumors,” Begich wrote in the letter. “I request the full cooperation of federal seafood monitoring and safety programs at the Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to maintain consumer confidence in the safety of our seafood and other products.”
Begich said he followed up on the letter with more calls to the White House on Friday to underscore the urgency of the situation to presidential staff, since major wholesale seafood shows in Europe will occur in early May.
“We want to make sure … that it is very clear that our product is premier, has no damage to it and we’re open for business,” Begich said.
In February Begich was named chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, and spoke at the ComFish forum about the work of the committee that directly affects Alaska.
“If you look at all of the subcommittees within the Senate, this is probably the Alaska subcommittee,” Begich said. “Sen. Stevens was the chair and ranking member of this subcommittee for many years. It has a lot of influence on what goes on.”
The subcommittee recently reviewed the budget for NOAA and will review the budget for the Coast Guard in two weeks.
But as chairman, Begich said he wants the subcommittee to take the lead in discussions that aren’t part of the normal round of business. For example, he plans to have a hearing on the economic power of U.S. oceans.
“What does it mean when a fisherman goes out there?” Begich said. “What is the ripple effect into an economy? There is truly a lack of understanding, in my view, in the United State Senate about the economic value of our oceans, in the sense of fishing especially.
“So we are going to put together a hearing that really highlights this: the job opportunities, the markets that we touch, the export that we do, the product that’s produced,” Begich said. “And I think it’s going to be an eye-opener to a lot of folks.”
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.