Begich Uses Role on Appropriations Committee to Fight for Alaska’s Seafood Industry
Reinstates Alaska’s Seafood Industry to J-1 Summer Work Travel Program
In his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Mark Begich today pushed through a bill that includes a provision to reinstate Alaska’s seafood industry to the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program. The provision is intended to address the critical manpower needs facing the Alaska seafood industry since seafood workers were dropped from the J-1 program two years ago.
“This is something Senator Murkowski and I have been working together on since last year’s negotiations over the immigration bill. I’m glad we were able to convince our colleagues on both sides of the aisle of the importance of this provision, and I commend the Appropriations Committee’s decision to include Alaska’s Seafood industry in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program,” said Begich. “Until there is a comprehensive solution to address seasonal labor needs in the U.S. I will continue to use my role on the Appropriations Committee and Senate Oceans Subcommittee to fight for reforms that address critical labor shortages in Alaska’s seafood industry.”
The language, championed by Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was accepted by the Committee as an amendment to the Senate FY 2015 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The Alaska Delegation has worked for years to reinstate seafood processing in the program. Last year, they secured a provision in Senate-passed immigration reform legislation, but that bill has stalled.
“This is a common sense step that will bring much needed relief to Alaska’s fishermen and an opportunity for students to work in Alaska’s seafood industry,” said Begich. “These are tough jobs and they aren't for everyone. But for some, it's an adventure that gives them the opportunity to come to Alaska – a place they’ve always wanted to visit. These workers can experience Alaska’s culture and earn enough to travel around the state and enjoy the unique way of life in Alaska.”
Alaska’s fishing industry has worked hard to fill the critical labor needs from domestic sources but struggled over the last two years to find enough workers. This has caused problems like an increase in no shows, disciplinary issues, absences and turnovers, and even illegal behavior, which resulted in reduced processing capacity, increased costs for recruitment and training, and stress on other employees. Losses are estimated in the millions of dollars and the reduced capacity has hurt fishermen wanting to deliver their catches, and communities earning less tax revenues from fishing.
The State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill now heads to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.
Begich is a member of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Oceans Subcommittee, officially called the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard.