ABC 2013: Conservation group honors Alaska senator

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, was given the Center for Coastal Conservation's Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportfishing during a luncheon ceremony Wednesday at the opening of the American Boating Congress.

The award from the coalition of advocates for marine recreational fishing and boating is given each year to a federal legislator who is dedicated to promoting the sound conservation and use of ocean resources.

"When I hear 'Lifetime Achievement Award' I think, 'I'm not done, am I?' " Begich joked in accepting the award before a full house at the luncheon.

A first-term senator, Begich is chairman of the Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.

As the mayor of Anchorage, an office he held for six years, Begich was instrumental in the creation of the Salmon in the City Restoration Initiative, a nationally recognized sustainable salmon stewardship program.

The public-private partnership works to maintain and restore riparian habitats, remove barriers to fish passage, restore stream banks and improve recreational fishing access. The program's success is illustrated by the fact that Anchorage city dwellers now have the opportunity to land a king salmon just a short walk from downtown.

"Now the bears are coming into the city, so it goes both ways," Begich said with a laugh.

A longtime boater and angler, Begich said the sportfishing industry nationally has a $70 billion impact on the economy.

He said the pending reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act, which governs marine fisheries nationally, is a high priority for him.

"It doesn't matter if you're from Louisiana or Alaska or Massachusetts. We all have a lot of work to do," he said. "The sportfishing industry is a great industry and this is a great opportunity to preserve an important part of our history. There is so much work ahead of us. We've just begun."

Begich concluded by saying that, moving forward, "we all have to do all we can to make sure this industry is not just a $70 billion industry, but a growing one."

— Rich Armstrong

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