Federal budget mixed bag for commercial fisheries

Laine Welch

The federal budget provides a mixed bag for commercial fisheries in the coming fiscal year.

Based on the preliminary budget released last week, funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went from $4.7 billion to $5.5 billion, an increase of about $750 million.

Within the NOAA budget, funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service is $1 billion, a drop of $15 million from the last fiscal year. Out of NMFS' Fiscal Year 13 budget, $174 million will fund science and management of fisheries. NMFS oversees more than 80 percent of Alaska's fisheries, those that occur in federal waters from three to 200 miles from shore.

The largest increase in funding, $36 million, will go to a new line item called National Catch Share programs. Industry expert John Sackton of Seafood.com said the agency does not predict an increase in catch share programs over the next five years. Instead, most of the money will pay for implementation, observer coverage, monitoring and other startup costs.

"The rationale for catch shares," Sackton said, "is that NOAA believes these programs are the best way to rebuild fish stocks to maximum sustainable yield, which would lead to a 54 percent increase in overall value of U.S. fisheries, worth more than $2 billion at the docks."

One red flag is that money for catch share programs comes from a transfer of $17 million from cooperative research programs.

"Cooperative research is used for the payments NMFS makes to industry, often including matching funds, for work involving commercial vessels, gear modifications and other developments which have had spectacular success in areas such as bycatch reduction," Sackton explained.

Another spectacular success set for elimination is fishing vessel safety research. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health is set to lose all research funding for its Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Sector, about $19.6 million. Of that, the budget for fishing safety programs is a mere $1.5 million.

"I am very disappointed," said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka. "It's interesting that those are three of the highest-risk groups for workers in the country."

Dzugan said funding cuts have become an annual thing because of lack of support within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parent agency for NIOSH.

"Although it touts fishing safety research as one of its most successful programs, it is a low priority within CDC," he said.

When the president's budget came out last week, Dzugan said, he was prompted to investigate the budget of another risky industry.

"The mining industry in the U.S. gets $53 million of research inter-prevention efforts from the federal government. The fishing vessel safety program that NIOSH is doing gets $1.5 million. That's about 3 percent of the budget that mining safety gets," he said.

Dzugan said both industries have 45 to 65 work-related deaths a year on average, but the fatality rates are far different.

"When you look at ... the number of fatalities per 100,000 people, fishing vessels have something between 100 and 200 fatalities per 100,000 on average. The mining industry has 0.20 per 200,000 on average," he said. "There is just no comparison to the risks in those industries and the lesser amount of funds they are getting. ... It makes no sense to me whatsoever."

The president's proposed budget now goes to the House of Representatives and then to the U.S. Senate before it is finalized.

Other fisheries budget highlights: a $15 million increase for stock assessments and fisheries research; a $5.5 million increase to support the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts; and $8 million to plan and design a new Arctic ice breaker. Employment at NMFS will increase by 75 positions for a total of 2,897 full-time positions.

Jump on jobs

High school and college students can sample a career in the Last Frontier as interns with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Available positions this summer range from working at hatcheries and wildlife information centers to tagging and sampling fish in the field and tracking sea lions in Southeast. The internships are paid positions, ranging from $13 to $20 per hour.

"They can get out and actually get their hands dirty and see if it is something they want to do for a life career," said internship program coordinator Sheila Cameron in Juneau. Ultimately, the goal is to show there are good careers right here in Alaska and hook a new generation into ADF&G.

"We are trying to attract the best and the brightest to the department," Cameron said.

Internship applications should be made to ADF&G. Get more information at dfg.internships@alaska.gov.

Deadline is March 5.

Seafood winners

The Symphony of Seafood played to a packed house last weekend as fans flocked to taste new products, vote for their favorites and be the first to hear the contest winners. The event, in its 19th year, is hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to showcase innovation in three categories: retail, food service and smoked.

The winners were:

Food Service: Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods;

Retail: Aqua Cuisine Naturally Smoked Salmon Frank;

Smoked: Kylee's Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustamena Smoke House in Soldotna;

People's Choice Award (in Seattle and Anchorage): Tracy's Alaskan King Crab Bisque by Tracy's King Crab Shack in Juneau; and

Grand Prize Winner: Kylee's Alaska Salmon Bacon.

The winners head to the International Boston Seafood show in mid-March.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaska.com.

Laine welch