ComFish brought a host of speakers to Kodiak to address fisheries issues and how current events are influencing the industry. The state’s budget gap was at the forefront of the talks Friday afternoon. Academic speaker Gunnar Knapp, along with political speakers like Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and Senator Dan Sullivan, all emphasized the urgency of Alaska’s fiscal crisis.
Knapp, director and professor of economics with the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, spoke about the State of Alaska’s budget as it relates to fisheries.
He said there’s intense pressure to cut state spending.
“And this has already affected and will continue to affect the budgets of the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Commerce which pays for ASMI and commercial fishing loan programs… So, you can get pressure of all kinds of other agencies that sort of also are important in one way or the other for the fishing industry.”
Knapp said the talk about budget cuts does not take into consideration the implications for the fishing industry.
“It’s more like you need to cut. Nobody says, well, if you cut Fish and Game, they’re gonna close this counting tower and they’re gonna close this research program, and they’re gonna not have these managers. The conversation is not happening at that level as to whether these are rational cuts.”
Knapp said ISER did a recent report where they studied the revenues that the fishing industry brings into the state compared to the cost the state pays in managing fisheries.
“One of the results that got a lot of people’s attention was that fishing cost the state, at least over the past three years, more than it brought in in revenues to the state unlike mining and tourism, which brought in more money than cost.”
He said the fishing industry needs to be prepared to respond, and he proposed a couple of arguments.
“One, two-fifths of the fisheries business and fisheries [resources] taxes are passed through the local government. So, you’re paying them. If the state is choosing to give them away to local government, that doesn’t mean you’re not paying them. That’s sort of an accounting them. The fishing industry is generating a lot of money, although a lot of it goes to local governments.”
Knapp said Alaska has never managed fisheries for the purpose of having a cash-cow for the state. He recalled the constitution, which says, “The legislature shall provide for the utilization…of all natural resources belonging to the state… for the maximum benefit of the people.” Knapp used the oil industry as a comparison point.
“We say the maximum benefit is how do we get as much money as possible out of the oil industry? That’s always been the philosophy with the oil industry. But that’s never been the management goal in the fishing industry. For fisheries, what have we tried to do? We’ve tried to manage employment, fishing incomes, and a variety of social objectives.”
The fishing industry and the taxes on it are likely topics currently on the table in Juneau during the legislature’s regular session, which is slated to close on April 17.