By this fall, all Alaska restaurants will have to say on their menus whether the fish they serve is farmed or wild.
Gov. Frank Murkowski signed a bill this week making the law mandatory for all restaurants. Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, authored Senate Bill 282 earlier this year.
Restaurateur Don Madsen, owner of the Breakwater Inn Restaurant and Lounge, said he thinks it's a good idea.
"We serve no farmed fish," Madsen said. "We never have served farmed fish. I wouldn't have it on my menu."
He said people eating out should know if they're eating fish injected with growth hormones and toxins.
Elton said it gives consumers the choice to support Alaska's fishing industry or the international fish-farming industry. He said the law applies only to finfish, or non-shellfish.
"It allows the consumer to make an informed decision on whether they want wild or farmed fish," Elton said.
He said the requirement is a consumer-protection law because of reports of toxins in farmed fish. He said Senate Bill 282 was conceptualized in the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force, made of four state lawmakers, including Elton, and seven public members.
Elton said the law complements a previous bill passed by the Legislature calling on grocery stores to label the fish they sell as wild or farmed. Compliance with that law is voluntary, Elton said. But the new law for restaurants is not.
Kristin Ryan, director of the state Division of Environmental Conservation, said although the law goes into effect within the next 90 days, the department will not enforce it until the state establishes food safety regulations. The regulations will be out for public comment this fall, she said.
The law provides DEC $72,000 a year for enforcement and education. Ryan said the state plans to send out pamphlets to restaurants across the state to inform them of the labeling requirement.
Because the issue of farmed versus wild fish is well-known in Alaska, Ryan said she expects to receive complaints on restaurants not in compliance.
She said enforcement would be based on complaints from consumers and during compliance reviews for restaurants.
"We'd let the establishment know and work with them to get it corrected," Ryan said.
The law does not apply to restaurants in schools, correctional facilities or establishments provided to employees by an employer.
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