Rep. Young’s Speaks In Support of Sea Otter Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Alaska Congressman Don Young offered the following statement at the House Natural Resources Committee's hearing held today on Rep. Young's bill, H.R. 2714:
"Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding a hearing on my bill, H.R. 2714. Though there has been some confusion related to this bill, it is really quite simple and would allow two things:
"The interstate sale of pelts and the export of handicrafts, garments, and art made from the pelts of the Southcentral or Southeast Alaska stocks of northern sea otters that are taken for subsistence purposes.
"Estimates vary, but every day, sea otters must eat a sizable amount of their body weight in shellfish. In many parts of Alaska, there is an overabundance of sea otters. This overabundance leads to a fierce competition for food, which has resulted in stress to some fisheries stocks in many parts of the State.
"In fact, entire fisheries have been curtailed due to low biomass. Specifically, sea otter predation has severely impacted many urchin and sea cucumber harvesting areas. Additional harvest areas for each fishery have seen reduced to guideline harvest levels (GHL). In addition, impacts to the Dungeness crab fishery have been severe and the abalone fishery has been closed since 1996. Together, these restrictions and impacts total into the tens of millions of dollars.
"Authorizing the domestic sales of pelts and the exportation of handicrafts would increase the market for both Alaska Native hunters and craftsmen alike and provide a greater incentive for harvesting sea otters.
"Now, there has been some concern from Native craftsmen that non-natives will purchase pelts and resell them as value added products, harming traditional artisans. I understand this concern and will consider ways in which to resolve this issue as we continue through the legislative process.
"For years, I have heard from my native hunters and craftsmen about overbearing law enforcement from the Fish and Wildlife Service, but never more clearly than my recent trip where I spoke with many individuals at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference. Harassing or entrapping law enforcement techniques have no business being exercised and result in a population that is nervous to exercise their subsistence rights.
"From one person, I heard about a tannery raid in which an individual's legally taken pelts were seized as evidence, and months later have still not been returned so she can use them to make a living working pelts into garments and handicrafts.
"The native subsistence provisions of the MMPA were to give that community an economic opportunity, and I know that the overbearing law enforcement techniques are having the opposite effect. No matter the story, one thing is evident: there is a culture of distrust and non-cooperation between the Fish and Wildlife Service and many in the community.
"Though the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service both have jurisdiction under the MMPA of certain species, the experience the Native groups have between the two agencies seems to be much different. Why is that the case? And why can't the agencies agree on the same definition of "significantly altered" and "authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing" in their respective interpretation of the same law?
"Today, I hope to examine these issues and receive answers to my questions.
"Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for having this hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses."