Pink slips have gone out to 15,000 state workers as a state shutdown looms on July 1. The impasse stems from lawmakers and Governor Dunleavy not agreeing on a budget and the amount of Alaskans’ annual dividend check.

The potential showdown has Alaska fishery managers in a holding pattern –

 “Our instructions at this point are to just maintain operations.”  

Sam Rabung is director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game.

“We’re hopeful that this will be resolved and we won’t have to go through the wasted effort of pulling camps and then reinstalling them, and all the additional costs. So at this point, we’re just maintaining the course and making sure our assessment projects are working to inform our management decisions and hoping for the best right now.”  

Rabung says it will be up to Governor Dunleavy to decide which of the fisheries personnel and projects will or won’t stay in place.

 “We’ve formulated a list of personnel that are essential to keeping the projects rolling and keeping things operating as normally as possible. By that I mean having our managers and the people operating our in season assessment projects stay in place. It’ll be up to the governor to decide who on that list stays in place if we do have a shutdown. And that’ll be the governor’s choice as to which projects keep operating and which don’t. But support staff and things that aren’t making in season decisions and data to make those decisions – those are the people that will stay home on July 1.”

The shutdown threat arrives at the surge of Alaska’s salmon season; Dungeness crab, shrimp and other state fisheries could be crimped, and projects and surveys that enable management decisions could be grounded.

It’s not going to be a one size fits all, but some of the fisheries that are more programmatic will be unhampered. But everything from running a sonar or counting tower or flying aerial surveys, those kinds of things we have to keep going. And when the fish tickets come in, somebody tallies that information and it goes into our management decisions as well. So those are the kind of gray areas. How long can we do without those kind of people?  And I would say not very long during our active fisheries.”

State shutdown threats have been averted before and Rabung says he’s optimistic one will be again.

“The anxiety of this and the impact on staff is really, from my perspective, kind of my biggest concern. We have a lot of people who this affects them directly and affects their families. And, quite frankly, it has an impact on our recruitment and retention. I mean, people are starting to say maybe it’s not the best deal to go to work for the state”.   

The Alaska legislature and Governor will begin another special budget session on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, as with other state workers, Rabung says fishery managers are “along for the ride.”