Legislature, governor, university contribute to coastal Alaska through Marine Advisory Program funding
- Paula Cullenberg, Program Leader, Marine Advisory Program, (907) 274-9692, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fairbanks, Alaska—Five Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) offices that faced an uncertain future earlier this year will stay open, and a sixth position will be filled, now that Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has signed the state’s 2011 operating budget.
The MAP positions, located in Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska, Cordova and Petersburg, were all funded with short-term grants slated to end over the next 12 months. Future funding was uncertain and unreliable. A sixth MAP position, located in Kodiak, has been vacant for the past 13 years.
Thanks to a groundswell of support from coastal community residents, the House and Senate supported a legislative budget request by the University of Alaska that included $600,000 to make the MAP positions permanent. Public testimony and letters to the Alaska State Legislature came from across the state and included municipal and tribal governments, fishing associations, tourism operators, schools and educators, Alaska Native organizations, environmental groups and industry representatives.
The Alaska Legislature approved $300,000 in the university’s operating budget to preserve the existing positions, and to fill the MAP position in Kodiak. The university will match the state appropriation with an additional $300,000 in reallocated funds for the six positions.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell signed the state’s 2011 operating budget into law on Thursday.
“This funding is important to coastal Alaskans, because it says the state and the university are committed to keeping marine advisory positions in these communities, and that the university is serious about investing long-term in coastal Alaska,” said Paula Cullenberg, the leader of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.
Around the state, MAP operates offices in 10 coastal communities, providing seafood industry workforce training, marine science K–12 education, and small business development, as well as conducting collaborative research on marine mammals, seafood quality, shellfish aquaculture and other community-defined priority issues.
Cullenberg said the combined state and university funding will allow MAP agents to press ahead with current initiatives and to tackle pressing new issues emerging in coastal communities.
“These funds allows us to make commitments to these communities and invest in long-term projects. We will be able to really think beyond the focus of a particular funding grant that we had in the past. With permanently funded MAP agents, we can address and have an impact on issues that are important to the region and the community,” said Cullenberg.
One of the new initiatives is a project aimed at helping seafood processors lower their energy consumption. Seafood processing plants are often the largest users of water, fuel and electricity in many coastal communities. The project is a partnership with the state’s Alaska Energy Authority.
The legislative appropriation signed by the governor also will allow MAP to hire a new agent for Kodiak.
“I will visit Kodiak later in in June to talk to community members about what priorities they would like to see a new MAP agent there focus on, and that will allow me to put together a hiring committee and develop a job description,” said Cullenberg.
In March, when funding from the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation for the Nome MAP office ran out, the office was closed. With funding restored, Cullenberg said she plans to begin the hiring process for this position.
Cullenberg said that residents in the Bering Strait region are interested in fisheries development and involving youth and adults in local science activities.
“There is significant national interest in the Arctic, and the MAP agent can help to ensure that this information is available in the region and that local residents are involved,” said Cullenberg.
In Dillingham, MAP is taking on a new project aimed at helping people understand the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process.
“In view of ongoing natural resource development issues and federal fisheries management throughout Western Alaska, it is important for coastal residents to have a good understanding of how environmental policies are developed. This is a new area for many people in the region,” Cullenberg said.
Cullenberg said that MAP would take on collaborative research elsewhere in the state, such as Petersburg, where agent Sunny Rice is working with fishermen and UAF scientists on an assessment of how sea otter populations impact the environment and commercial fishing.
“Around the state, MAP agents are involved in their communities,” Cullenberg said. “MAP has a long history of helping communities with sustaining their natural resources, supporting economic diversification, and providing capacity building for adults and young people seeking resource-related careers. MAP agents connect coastal residents with the information and resources they need around the issues that are important to them. I would just really like to thank everyone who was involved in this effort.”