UA seeks state funding for marine extension in six coastal communities



NR: SG-2010/NR301

Fairbanks, Alaska—Around the state, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) agents and specialists make a difference in the lives of coastal Alaskans.

Take Cordova resident Eric Lian for example. Last year, he participated in a forum for young fishermen sponsored by MAP, with the goal of creating a new generation of leaders that would reverse the slow decline of fishing traditions in coastal communities. Encouraged by what he learned in the forum, Lian now serves on the board of directors for the Cordova District Fishermen United. He speaks often on marine policy issues, and mentors other young fishermen coming up the ranks.

In seafood processing plants around the state, thousands of workers are producing safer, higher quality seafood after participating in training and workforce development programs run by MAP. Fishermen not content to sell their catch to processors have learned how to sell to restaurants and specialty stores in direct marketing classes and workshops taught by extension agents.

To be sure, Alaska’s fishing industry is an important focus for Marine Advisory Program agents and specialists located in ten coastal communities around the state. But the program is much more than fish.

In Unalaska, for example, high school students coached by MAP took part in a nationwide marine science competition and were inspired to pursue science degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In Bethel, the local marine advisory agent is helping residents launch ecotourism businesses, and in Kodiak, MAP helped Latino women learn how they can start small businesses in their community.

Whether it’s helping Nome set up their own water monitoring plan, assisting shellfish farmers detect and avoid red tide outbreaks, looking for harmful invasive marine species, or working on archaeological studies of Alaska Native artifacts, the university’s Marine Advisory Program is there.

“Helping communities improve their standing and sustain their traditions and lifestyles is just part of being a MAP agent,” says Paula Cullenberg, MAP leader. “In many of the communities where we’re based or visit, we’re the only university presence.”

But now, that presence is in jeopardy, due to funding shortfalls expected to hit the program later this year.

MAP positions in five coastal communities—Cordova, Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska, and Petersburg—are scheduled to run out of money later this year. A sixth position, in Kodiak, has been unfilled for the past 13 years. Fully one-third of the 16 agent and specialist positions are facing significant budget problems.

“We’ve struggled for years to keep these positions operating on various state, private and federal grants,” said Cullenberg. “At this point future funding is tenuous.”

To keep these community programs operating, the University of Alaska’s 2011 operating budget request includes $614,000 to permanently fund MAP positions in the six communities. The Alaska Legislature must approve the request.

“Our program is committed to helping Alaska’s coastal communities and the marine resources they depend on remain strong and resilient,” said Cullenberg. “The funding we’re requesting would represent a long-term commitment by the University of Alaska to maintain a Marine Advisory Program agent in these communities.”

More than 45 letters from city and community leaders, fishermen’s associations, seafood processors, Alaska Native organizations, and others, urging support for the MAP budget request have poured into legislative offices. Shirley Marquardt, mayor of Unalaska, said ensuring MAP’s viability is important to her community and others across the state.

“The program links us with research around the state, encourages youth toward workplace opportunities in the seafood and fishing industry, and responds to the needs of communities in cases of oil spills, marine mammal strandings, and the effects of climate change on our marine environment,” said Marquardt.

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a statewide marine research, education, communication, and extension service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is a statewide university extension and technical assistance program that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy Alaska's marine and coastal resources.