A longtime champion of fisheries conservation

Posted: Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From the Eastern seaboard to Pacific Northwest, former Sen. Ted Stevens' impact on fisheries has been and will continue to be immense.

The Associated Press File
The Associated Press File

"Ted Stevens is the reason so many fishermen's children can afford to wear diapers and shoes and their kids can go to college," Southeast Alaska Seiners Association executive director Robert Thorstenson Jr. said.

Thorstenson's father, Bob Sr., a founding member of Petersburg Fisheries Inc. (now Icicle Seafoods based in Seattle), would often entertain the senator, and young Robert would bounce on his knee.

"My dad and Ted worked together long before the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and were close family friends. ... The entire Alaska seafood industry would be a completely different place (without Stevens) - he impacted our ports, our schools, our airports ... every single town. There is nothing that was not touched in some way by Ted Stevens."

Stevens developed and modeled the 200-mile limit for fisheries off the U.S. coast, helping Thorstenson Sr. and Elmer Rasmuson, board members of the International Pacific Fisheries Commission, negotiate with Canada and Russia in the 1970's to dramatically increase the boundary of U.S. waters.

In 1985, Stevens helped the U.S. government establish the Pacific Salmon Treaty, helping Alaska fishermen represent themselves in a consensus vote with fishermen in Canada, Oregon and the 26 native tribes in Washington. He renegotiated it in 1997 and again in 1999, with a final reorganization before leaving office in 2008. The treaty is good through 2018.

Stevens allied with Warren Magnuson in developing the Northwest U.S. and Bering Sea fishing industry through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the defining legislation for how the nation's federal fisheries are managed.

His 2006 amendments to the MSFCMA set firm catch limits and deadlines to end overfishing in U.S. waters, while strengthening the role of science in managing fisheries.

In 1997, Stevens began working with the United Fishermen of Alaska, establishing the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board in 2003, and was instrumental in securing congressional seafood import funds for marketing Alaska seafood worldwide. Sponsored products ranged from salmon burgers, new machinery and refrigeration systems and new boats, to better quality control and marketing of Alaska brands.

From 2002 to 2006, Stevens and the administration of then-Gov. Frank Murkowski secured hundreds of millions of dollars for seafood marketing of salmon.

"(Stevens was) an irreplaceable icon for the American seafood industry," said John Sackton, editor and publisher of Seafood News.

Stevens was instrumental in helping establish the Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program that established six companies to represent 65 Western Alaska villages, granting fishing rights in the Bering Sea in 1992 to spur economic development.

Economics professor Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska Anchorage, a fisheries educator, echoed Stevens' importance to Alaska and the U.S. seafood processing industry.

"Beyond that he was tirelessly involved in every major piece of fisheries legislation for many decades," he said. "Affecting the management of federal fisheries going back to the declaration of the 200-mile limit, through the Americanization of the Alaska groundfish industry, to many acts of legislation that affected the industry.

"He was also controversial, not everyone agreed with what he did, but all fish politics in Alaska are controversial. He had the power and influence and, more importantly, the knowledge."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski aid Arne Fuglvog, a longtime commercial fisherman who's father, Ed, was a Norwegian fisherman, knew Stevens as a more than just a lobbyist.

"I had many opportunities to work with him in Washington," Fuglvog said. "Watching what he did, I have a very keen and incredible overall appreciation of what he was able to do, but I also saw him as a family man and a friend to my father."

A tireless advocate for U.S. fisheries and marine science, Stevens worked for years in cooperation with the Alaska region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service and promoted the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau to replace the aging Auke Bay Lab. His legacy is honored with it being named the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.

"In the midst of all that controversy at the time, he was concerned with my father's health," Thorstenson Jr. said. "I am sure everybody in the state has known him, seen him or smiled at him at some time. We were hopeful that he would have many years to enjoy his accomplishments as a public servant and how much he did for the state. We are really saddened.

"It is universal, you won't find it anywhere else in the state seafood industry from the little guys up to company heads, there are very few people who are not going to be positively impacted by Ted Stevens; for decades to come, perhaps centuries, the legacy of his accomplishments will be felt."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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