Salmon otoliths (ear bones) tell age, origins

Alaska lawmakers are pushing back against Governor Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to the commercial fisheries budget.

The current commfish budget is about $67 million of which $36 million comes from state general funds. That could be cut by over one million dollars and affect fishery programs across the state.

Representative Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan pointed out that the Fish and Game budget has been cut each year over the past five years.

“I’m just not comfortable with any more reductions to the commercial side of the Fish and Game budget.”  

Ortiz and others objected to the proposed closure of the Fish and Game office in Wrangell that would lose one job and move another to Petersburg for a savings of $66,000.

The House Fisheries Committee also restored over $700,000 in funding for several research projects including red king crab stock assessments  in Southeast. That benefit extends beyond commercial users to nearly 3,700 personal use permits each year, 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.”

The committee also restored $91,000 to the Cordova Fish and Game otolith, or ear bone, research program that tracks straying of pink and chum salmon from Prince William Sound hatcheries.

Also, the governor’s proposed decrements for stock assessments for Southeast sea cucumbers and urchins, pike suppression projects in the Susitna and Yenta Rivers in the central region, Frazer Lake sockeye management at Kodiak, and research on Bering Sea salmon and mariculture planning and permitting all were rejected by the fisheries committee.

The recommendations next head to the House Finance Committee.

There’s still a long way to go in the legislative session and nearly all funding decisions could face Dunleavy’s veto pen.

Representative Ortiz told KSTK in Wrangell that any cuts to commercial fishing cut into dollars that return to the state.

“Every dollar that’s invested into commercial fishing does bring significant returns to the economy.”