Skip to main Content

What a state budget-triggered shutdown will mean to fisheries

Want a fishing license to crew on a salmon boat this summer? Got friends or family visiting who want to wet a line for a prized Alaska catch? Don't count on it.

If the Alaska Legislature continues to defy its constitutional obligation to pass a budget, those opportunities will be lost because there won't be any state workers to issue fishing licenses. Layoff notices went out June 1 to thousands of state employees who will be off the job at the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Hundreds of impacts are being outlined by the governor and state agencies as the deadline approaches.

Here's an overview of potential fishery-related impacts:

The Commercial Fisheries Division, which receives nearly all its management money from the state general fund, will be hit hard. The budget deadlock would bring all state fisheries to a screeching halt, and thousands of processing workers who live in or come to Alaska each summer would suddenly find themselves out of a job.

The biggest punch would be felt by salmon fisheries — and the harm could extend well beyond this year.

Field staff at remote weirs, towers and salmon sonar counting projects from Southeast to Kotzebue will be pulled, said Scott Kelley, a division director with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"A ballpark count is 40-50 projects for commercial fisheries. That doesn't include projects operated by Sport Fish, which are oftentimes equally important for overall salmon assessment, as well as aerial and foot surveys," he said.

The stall means managers' ability to forecast future salmon escapement goals and collect other critical data also could be compromised.

Canceled harvests also could force too many salmon to head upstream and exceed the carrying capacity of their home lakes or streams.

"That entirely depends on the strength of a given run," Kelley explained. "The more spawners we put in, the more fry we get. If we put a big number of sockeye into a system above the upper end of an escapement goal, the result could be reduced yield when that brood year returns over three to five years. If there are more fry than feed, they could have reduced in-lake survival (and) reduced marine survival because they leave freshwater smaller and less fit than normal."

Insufficient sampling also could hinder assessment of the state's obligations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada as well as Fish and Game's ability to manage allocations set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission's stock-assessment program.

A shutdown will threaten annual production of 4.5 million salmon, rainbow trout and Arctic char at Alaska's two state-owned hatcheries, and prevent the collection of chinook and coho brood stock. Rebuilding that mature stock to sustain future generations could take up to four years.

Fish and Game's three patrol vessels and skiffs will be tied up.

Also halted beginning July 2 would be issuance of Title 16 land-and-water-use permits by the Division of Habitat. Similarly, the Department of Natural resources will delay issuing various permits and authorizations.

Say so long to subsistence harvest surveys done by the Division of Subsistence, and support to the Board of Fisheries. The issuance of subsistence and drawing permits could be delayed, interrupted or stopped.

The budget impasse would delay or prevent fish cargo shipments. The Department of Transportation will tie up all 11 state ferries, meaning no passenger service and no fish transports to mainland customers. Likewise, many state airports will operate with reduced hours, preventing fish from being delivered to buyers in a timely manner.

Core services by the Department of Environmental Conservation will be suspended, including testing for shellfish paralytic shellfish poison, plus air and water monitoring and permitting.

In a June 9 press release, Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said that the department is working with the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Law to analyze the impacts of a shutdown on the commercial, subsistence, personal use and sport fisheries, as well as hunting seasons.

Fish and Game programs and services will continue as normal throughout June.

Fisheries ramp up

Many fisheries besides salmon are underway or gearing up.

*Cod: Fishing is ramping up in Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak and regions farther west.

*Dungeness crab: Southeast's season begins June 15. Several million pounds usually come out of the fishery.

*Pollock: In the Bering Sea, the summer season opens June 10, and fishing for cod, flounders and other whitefish continues.

*Halibut: Catches have topped 7 million pounds, with Kodiak the leading port, followed by Seward. Homer is a distant third.

*Sablefish: Catches have reached 9.5 million pounds, with Seward and Sitka leading other ports.

*Red king crab: The first Norton Sound harvest kicks off in late June. Expect nearly a half-million pounds.

*Herring roe: The wrap of the state's largest roe herring fishery at Togiak shows that just under 16,000 tons was taken, about 10 tons less than the quota. An advance price of $100 per ton puts the fishery value at about $1.75 million.

Stay stable

Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway and heave. A new iPhone app helps skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. It is called SCraMP – for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools for boat operators.

"There is a view that gives them the accelerations they've seen so they have a sense of how bad they are being beat up. There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of three different warning metrics (that) fishermen can plug in numbers they feel comfortable with," said app creator Leigh McCue, a professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

She said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were bulky or expensive. McCue realized a few years ago that smart phones had all the computing power that was needed and fishermen's input helped her hone the app to their needs. It's also useful for large vessels.

The SCraMP app can be customized to each vessel and downloaded for free at

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based commercial fishing columnist. Contact her at

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.