Most of the benefits from the commercial fishing industry go to local government, while the state spends more on the industry than it takes in, according to a new analysis.
A study conducted by Bob Loeffler and Steve Colt of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research found that the state spends about $27.2 million more on commercial fishing than it receives in revenue from the industry.
This includes regulation, operations and capital projects. However, it does not consider federal funds, which play a role in Alaska's fisheries, as many salt-water fisheries are federally managed, at least partially.
Local governments make out considerably better — they take in about 40 percent of the revenue from the commercial fishing industry, according to the analysis. And that does not include benefits to local economies, such as spending at local businesses.
The state spends far more on commercial fishing than it does on other sectors of the economy, such as mining and tourism, which where also examined in the ISER report. Including operations and capital projects, the state spends approximately $78.3 million on the commercial fishing industry every year. Combined with local governments' expenditures, the spending total reaches approximately $96.8 million.
The state brought in more to the unrestricted general fund from cigarette taxes than it does from commercial fishing in fall 2015, according to the Department of Revenue's Revenue Sources Book.
Loeffler, a visiting professor of public policy at UAA, said the study was not intended to be a cost-benefit analysis but more background information about how the state spends its money on these industries and how they fit into Alaska's overall economy.
"I think it is important to look at the fiscal effects (of each industry)," Loeffler said. "(The industries) bring huge benefits to communities, to individuals, in lots of ways. We're not suggesting they don't. I think they're a very important part of state policy."
Read the study
The Division of Economic Development, which commissioned the study, did not return requests for comment on the purpose of the study. Colt, a professor of economics with UAA, said he thought the study would bring more facts to the conversation about state spending.
"I think it's important that we do this every few years, so we can get a sense of how things are changing over time," Colt said. "I think they just benefit having … facts on the table. Hopefully we saved a lot of people from rediscovering things over and over."
Commercial fishing provides 15 sources of revenue for the state, with most stemming from the state's share of the Fisheries Business Tax, which brought in approximately $25.1 million in 2014. The two next most lucrative taxes, the Salmon Enhancement Tax on aquaculture and the Seafood Marketing Assessment, brought in $12.8 million and $10.2 million respectively, according to the ISER study.
Locally, revenue comes from taxes distributed by the state, sales and property taxes related to commercial fishing and other spending in the community, such as tackle and food. Municipalities altogether take in more than the state in the fisheries business tax — $26.5 million in 2014. Municipally imposed fisheries taxes brought in $20.3 million in 2014 and the municipal share of the fishery resource landing tax totaled about $5.5 million in 2014, according to the study.
The local governments do spend money managing local commercial fisheries, such as funding Homer's harbormaster position. Overall, however, the management of fisheries is left to the state.
The state revenues and expenses are fairly accurate, Loeffler said. However, the study was not intended to inform the state's current budget debate.
"This really wasn't about that," Loeffler said. "Clearly, we should manage mining to be sure that it is consistent with protecting the environment. The same is true with commercial fishing."
Reach Peninsula Clarion reporter Elizabeth Earl at email@example.com.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing