Fishery programs across Alaska are on the chopping block in Governor Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the coming year.
The commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game operates on a nearly $67 million budget of which $36 million comes from state general funds. That could be cut by over $1 million with impacts to every state region.
In Southeast, the Wrangell Fish and Game office is set to be closed; also, assessments of red king crab would be eliminated.
That will hurt users beyond commercial fisheries, says Frances Leach, director of United Fishermen of Alaska.
“A lot of people don’t recognize that those stock assessments help evaluate if the personal use fishery could open. So without that assessment, there will be no personal use fisheries for red king crab in Southeast Alaska.”
Leach says early 3,700 red king crab personal use permits are issued in Southeast Alaska every year.
“A lot of people don’t recognize that that the commercial fisheries division does end up paying for a lot other than commercial fisheries. We do pay for research for personal use and sports. And, you know, it’s something to be noted for sure.”
Cuts also are on deck for stock assessments for Southeast urchin and sea cucumber fisheries which will likely reduce dive time.
“Currently dive fishermen are paying a good percentage of that assessment. And now fishing game is cutting their portion and looking elsewhere for the funding.”
In the central region, suppression projects for pike that are eating all those tiny salmon in the Susitna and Yenta Rivers also are set for elimination.
At Kodiak, management of the Frazer Lake fish pass for sockeye salmon is set to be reduced meaning more conservative management.
Further west, research on Bering Sea salmon is set to take a $300,000 cut and funding will instead rely on grants or the federal government.
And at a time when mariculture in Alaska is starting to take off and permits are taking up to two years for growers to get in hand, big cuts are proposed for planning and permitting programs.
It’s just the start of the state budget process and it’s anyone’s guess how the final numbers will fall.