Compass: Resources commissioner forgets fisheries

By KATE TROLLJanuary 9, 2013 

Laine Welch, in her annual fisheries review published in the Anchorage Daily News on Dec. 29, noted that Alaska's seafood industry worked hard in 2012 to ramp up the message to policy makers who tend to overlook the industry's economic significance.

Apparently this effort fell on deaf ears. A week later Dan Sullivan, Alaska's Commissioner of Natural Resources, wrote a self-congratulatory Compass editorial on the economic importance of our natural resources. He focused overwhelmingly on oil, gas and mining and totally ignored Alaska's commercial fisheries.

From his column it is apparent our commissioner doesn't consider Alaska's fish, nor for that matter its other renewable resources, to be of much value or concern to his department.

If Commissioner Sullivan had read Laine's column he would've learned that nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska and 96 percent of all wild-caught salmon. Seafood is by far Alaska's No. 1 export, valued $2.4 billion in 2012. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to Alaska's general fund each year; it provides more Alaska jobs than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined.

The commissioner did give a cursory nod to our farmers, noting they are creating new jobs and enhancing our food security. That may be commendable, but it is stunning that he mentions food security and ignores the fact that Alaska's seafood industry is now in its third century providing a virtually uninterrupted source of food to the world since 1878. Alaska is the 9th-largest seafood producer in the world.

The commissioner also completely overlooks Alaska's world class resources of renewable energy. There are seven major forms of renewable energy resources, all of which are abundant in Alaska. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, the state has over 50 percent of the nation's wave energy resources and over 90 percent of the country's river current and tidal energy resources. It might be easy to dismiss all of this as simple oversight were it not that Mr. Sullivan is one of the key officials accountable for responsibly developing all of Alaska's natural resources. It should be a matter of great concern to all of us that Alaska's great wealth of renewable natural resources, including the visitor industry, is not even on his radar screen.

Equally disturbing is his failure to mention subsistence and personal use resources, the lifeblood of Alaska's 229 villages. Even though there may not be any new economic report or investment to cite, the importance of subsistence and personal use resources should never be overlooked by a commissioner charged with developing, conserving and enhancing natural resources for Alaskans. The state land that he manages provides the habitat for fish and wildlife, and the plants essential to providing for the needs of these people. These resources may be more difficult to place a monetary value on than oil flowing through a pipeline, but their replacement value in store-bought food shipped in from somewhere else is huge, and the cultural importance far exceeds their monetary value.

He talks about great strides in permit reform in 2012 for development and his effort to streamline the permitting process "without cutting corners on environmental protection." These are shallow words coming from someone representing an administration that systematically undid the coastal management program and established Alaska as the only coastal state without this basic tool for environmental protection. Cutting corners may have been the objective, but they seem to have cut out the heart with the corners.

Our governor has gone on record saying he would never trade one resource for another. But if Commissioner Sullivan's editorial is any indication, this administration is prepared to do just that. Apparently salmon and trout, moose and caribou, clean water, renewable energy and parks are resources to trivial to be noticed.

Kate Troll is a former executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska and former fisheries specialist with the state of Alaska. As a long-time Alaskan she has over 20 years experience in fisheries, coastal and energy policy.

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