Timothy Cole Gallaudet, retired Rear Admiral in the United States Navy currently serving as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere within the U.S. Department of Commerce, speaks before a town hall event sponsored by NOAA at Centennial Hall on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Timothy Cole Gallaudet, retired Rear Admiral in the United States Navy currently serving as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere within the U.S. Department of Commerce, speaks before a town hall event sponsored by NOAA at Centennial Hall on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaskans worried by prospect of deep-sea fish farms

Federal undersecretary listens to concerns about strategic plan

In a Centennial Hall listening session, Alaskans raised concerns about federal plans to boost open-ocean fish farms under a new strategic plan for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

On Friday afternoon, Tim Gallaudet, acting undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, hosted a listening session at the end of a weeklong gathering of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts in Juneau.

NOAA is an agency of the Department of Commerce, and Gallaudet is among the figures hosting meetings across the country as part of the process that creates the strategic plan.

In a speech opening the listening session, Gallaudet said the strategic plan is an “initiative to grow the American ‘blue economy.’”

That phrase is used as an umbrella term that includes fisheries, oceanic tourism and other aspects of the national economy that relate to the oceans.

Gallaudet echoed the familiar refrains of the Trump Administration, saying the department is interested in deregulation and “reducing the seafood trade deficit.”

President Donald Trump’s trade war with China has resulted in Chinese tariffs on Alaska seafood exported to that country, and American tariffs on processed Alaska seafood products imported from China.

“There’s some growing pains, but it’s about a free, fair and reciprocal trade policy,” Gallaudet said.

Several invited panelists gently prodded Gallaudet, and by extension the Trump Administration, to stabilize trade issues.

Among members of the public who offered their opinions, the issue of aquaculture was paramount. One of the goals within the strategic plan is “increase aquaculture production.”

”We will help it grow faster by reducing regulatory burden and driving aquaculture research,” the plan states.

“A strong U.S. marine aquaculture industry will serve a key role in U.S. food security and improve our trade balance with other nations.”

Alaska bans fish farms, but its jurisdiction extends only to waters 3 miles offshore. Beyond that limit is federal waters, and the state ban does not apply.

“We are very concerned about the aquaculture activities,” said Frances Leach, director of the United Fishermen of Alaska and a member of the invited panel Friday.

She went on to ask Gallaudet that any National Marine Fisheries Service guidelines in that area allow an opt-out clause.

Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries and former director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said concerns about aquaculture are somewhat misplaced.

“In terms of finfish, I think we’re talking about very contained operations, as opposed to hatchery operations,” he said.

That didn’t assuage the audience, which repeatedly expressed concerns about the idea that NOAA could allow deep-sea fish farms off Alaska’s coast.

“We already see kind of the questionable outcomes fish hatcheries have had,” said Kristine Trott, a member of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Juneau-Douglas advisory committee.

Don Habeger, a candidate for the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, asked Gallaudet if he would commit to shifting Alaska Fisheries Science Center staff from Washington state to Alaska, a long-held dream of Juneau residents.

“I cannot commit to a specified increase in employment anywhere,” Gallaudet replied.

Other speakers urged Gallaudet to take action that will help Alaska fisheries deal with the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

“I would encourage you to invest in science,” said Michael LeVine, senior Arctic fellow for the Ocean Conservancy.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)


2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.


3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

Most Read