Alaska gets a good return on investment from its commercial fisheries. That was shown to lawmakers this week in a presentation to the House Fisheries Committee. Sam Rabung is director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

“The commercial fishing industry is the largest private sector employer in Alaska, directly employing almost 60,000 workers annually. It contributes about $172 million directly in taxes, fees and self-assessments to state, local and federal governments. It contributes an annual average of about $5.6 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy.”

Of the $172 million in taxes, 43%, or $73 million goes to state coffers, 30% – $51 million – goes to local governments; 23%, or $40 million funds salmon hatchery management, and 5%, $8 million goes to the federal government.

Rabung pointed out that the commercial fisheries budget also covers other users –

“This is probably not as well-known but we also manage the subsistence fisheries in the state of Alaska as well as most of the personal use fisheries. Data collected by our division is shared across all divisions within the department as much as possible. We also share the cost of projects and facilities with other divisions as well. We work as a team. So that investment  also carries over to other user groups.”

The division’s main charge is sustaining the revenue generating fisheries and that takes good science.

“If we can’t manage sustainably we can’t open a fishery. Most of our budget is used on research, which is another word for assessment tools. So we’re assessing the stocks to see if there is a harvestable surplus. If we can’t do that work, we can’t open a fishery and say we’re managing sustainably. So we revert to being more conservative. We may have less openings or lower guideline harvest levels or in some cases we might just close the fisheries altogether. We set the bar very high as far as sustainability.”

The division operates at about a $67 million budget of which $36 million comes from state general funds. Fisheries Committee chair, Representative Louise Stutes of Kodiak, said few state investments return as much to the state operating budget.

 “My goal in this hearing was to make it clear that comm fisheries indeed do pay their own way.   Investments in our commercial fisheries lead directly to fishing opportunities for Alaskans, great returns to the general fund, and produces benefits in spades for our state economy. We should be looking at targeted increases to the Department of fishing game budget.”

Governor Dunleavy’s prelilminary budget for the commercial fisheries division for FY 21 is $36,6 million, reflecting a nearly $1 million cut.

We’ll have more on where the fish budget cuts could fall tomorrow.