Alaska is facing its toughest budget squeeze ever, but commercial fisheries are set to get a bit of a breather.

“I want to say I think we did really well this year. We’ve had some pretty rough reductions over the last five or six years and this year, basically what we’re getting is fund swaps. We’re being almost held harmless.”  

Sam Rabung is director of the commercial fisheries division, the largest division within the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game,  speaking at a recent United Fishermen of Alaska webinar. A proposed budget of $72.8 million reflects a slight loss in general funds but it is offset by a swap from another source.

“But to offset that we’re being granted $855,000 in increased authority for using what we call GFP, our General Fund Program receipts. That is commercial crew licenses. We’ve been collecting more revenue from commercial crew licenses every year than we have authority to use. So it’s kind of creating a piggy bank and keeps building and that money rolls forward. And so we’re going to be able to utilize those funds now in lieu of general funds. So it’s pretty much a wash. It’s a same amount of reduction as an increase, just different fund sources.”  

The comm fish budget was slashed by 45% over several years and Rabung says there is nothing  left to cut.

 “So the only thing we have left to reduce is our fisheries assessment projects, which is what informs our management decisions. And as everybody knows, if we don’t have the tools or the information, we’re going to manage more conservatively. We’ve been successful, I think, in demonstrating the cause and effect of a reduced budget on comm fish with reduced revenues into the state through reduced fishery activity and the fees and taxes associated with that.”  

Rabung says the Dunleavy Administration now recognizes that “commercial fishing more than pays its own way.

“The revenue that comes into the general fund from commercial fishing activity is considerably more than the commercial fisheries division draws back out to fund our operations. That was not apparent to this administration and many others in the past when they came in, but they get it now.”

He points out that the comm fish division also manages subsistence and personal use fisheries.

“And ironically, in order to participate in a personal use fishery, you have to buy a sport fishing license. So sport fish division gets the revenue from that, although commercial fishing does the assessment and management for it. So commercial fishing as an industry supports an awful lot of other activities and may not get the credit they deserve for it.”