Stevens’ legacy is lasting


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
August 10, 2010

Most journalists have limited opportunities to interview world leaders, celebrities or iconic personalities. Thus, my list of famous-people interviews is quite short. It actually includes just one name: former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Shortly before Christmas 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), first enacted in 1976, was up for an overdue reauthorization, one with a deeper commitment to science-based management and individual fishing quotas as employed in Stevens’ home state (President Bush ultimately signed the bill into law on 12 January 2007). Advancements had been made since the MSA’s last iteration in 1996, and the governing law had become somewhat obsolete.

For a few weeks, I traded phone calls and e-mails with the Republican senator’s office about a potential interview to appear in a cover story about the reauthorization for SeaFood Business magazine. A comment from Stevens, the man for whom the bill was partly named, would really make the piece stand out.

Two days before the tentatively scheduled interview was to happen, I got a call from one of Sen. Stevens’ aides, asking me if I was ready to talk to the senator, who was on the line. Before I had a chance to answer, I was on the phone with one of the most powerful men in Washington, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee with nearly four decades of service.

I was given just three minutes, just enough for a handful of questions.

After saying that he was “as proud of [the MSA] as anything I’ve ever done,” I asked Stevens if the basic principles of Magnuson-Stevens could act as a blueprint for other nations to follow. After a series of short, concise comments, his tone softened, revealing a passionate side.

“We have to find some way to have these concepts applied to the high seas, especially illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) activities, particularly by draggers,” Stevens said. “The future of the fishing capabilities of every nation depends on finding some way to not abuse the fisheries on the high seas.”

Stevens died on Monday at age 86 in a plane crash in western Alaska, along with four others. Regardless of our political affiliations or leanings, Stevens deserves a lot of respect for the work he did with the nation’s fisheries — and for the work he truly wanted to do. An international agreement to curb IUU fishing, which the global seafood industry direly needs, was clearly on his agenda.

Ray Riutta, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said that the Alaska fisheries-regulation model is “incredibly influential.” Alaska’s fisheries are considered among the world’s best managed; 10 of the state’s fisheries are Marine Stewardship Council certified.

“No one has done more for the Alaska seafood industry than Ted Stevens,” said Riutta. “He’s going to be greatly missed by all Alaskans, particularly the Alaska seafood industry. We lost a great man today.”

Stevens lost his Senate seat in 2008 after serving 40 years in office, but his legacy lives on. Hopefully the fisheries-management framework that led to so many thriving, sustainable fisheries in Alaska can be replicated elsewhere. If so, then Stevens would have helped to construct a bridge to somewhere truly special.

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