Fish Radio

Gunnar Knapp: fisheries get little merit by AK lawmakers

April 12, 2016

Gunnar Knapp, Fisheries Economist, ISER/UAA has been an advisor to the AK legislature this session

Gunnar Knapp, Fisheries Economist, ISER/UAA has been an advisor to the AK legislature this session

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch. Fish budget cuts merit little discussion by lawmakers. I’ll tell you more after this –

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The Alaska legislature is set to adjourn on Sunday and that means lots of budgets on the cutting room floor. As with others, agencies connected to the fishing industry will take big hits. But all budget cuts are not created equal. And with fishing comes little conversation by lawmakers of   trickle down effects.

The kinds of conversations are not rational, careful consideration saying if you cut this what would be the implications for the fishing industry. It’s more like – you need to cut. Nobody says if you cut Fish and Game they are going to close this counting tower and this research program, and they’re not going to not have these managers – the conversation is not happening at that level as to whether these are rational cuts, and as to whether they are penny wise and pound foolish, as I think a lot probably are. That is a dangerous way for conversations to be happening about agencies, particularly fish and game that are critical for the fishing industry. 

Gunnar Knapp is a fisheries economist, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska and a budget advisor to the Legislature this session.  He points to the folly of gutting funds for the state’s lone seafood marketing arm – the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, as an example.

Think about it – ASMI increases the value of Alaska fish products. And the taxes are based on the value of Alaska fish. There is quite probably a direct trade off between funding for ASMI and fish value and fish taxes. But no one is thinking about that.  

With Alaska’s commercial catches of  5 to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly one  million dollars for the state and local governments each. Knapp says it is maddening that lawmakers think of the seafood industry as a single entity.

It drives me nuts when people say ‘the fishing industry ‘  … this industry or that one. Our industry is very diverse and some fisheries sort of balance out what different parts of the industry pays in taxes and what it costs to manage them vary widely across the industry.   

The most important missed point, Knapp says, is that Alaska’s fishing industry maximizes social objectives.

We have never in Alaska managed fisheries for the purpose of making it a cash cow of the state. The constitution says the ‘legislature shall manage natural resources for the maximum benefit of the people.   So what do we do with oil – we say the maximum benefit is how do we get as much money as possible out of the oil industry. But that’s never been the management goal in the fishing industry. For fisheries we try to maximize employment, fishing income and a variety of social objectives.

 Knapp says it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what lawmakers in Juneau are doing.

   Bottom line —  pay attention to fish politics so you don’t get screwed.  

 Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, an Alaska corporation proudly supporting Alaska’s coastal communities and the Alaskans who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.    In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.