Alaska’s congressional delegation says Sea Grant funding should remain

March 16, 2017

Senator talking to group of people Sen. Lisa Murkowski addressed the audience at the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship Program reception.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) expressed strong support for Alaska Sea Grant last week at a reception celebrating the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship Program at the Senate Hart Building. About 400 fellows, along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staff and Sea Grant directors from around the country, attended the event.

The senator’s remarks came on the heels of a Washington Post report saying the Trump Administration wants to zero out funding for all 33 Sea Grant programs across the nation, about $73 million. Today, the Administration reconfirmed its intent to eliminate Sea Grant in its first budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. The budget proposes increases to defense spending by $54 billion and to make major cuts to 18 federal agencies.

The budget proposal cuts over $250 million in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education, including Sea Grant. The journal Nature published a story today on the proposed cuts.

Murkowski said eliminating Sea Grant would seriously harm her state and many others.

“Sea Grant plays a vital role in Alaska,” Murkowski said.

The senator said Sea Grant brings “massive benefits” to Alaska, other coastal and Great Lakes states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, through applied research, communication, extension and education. She specifically noted Alaska Sea Grant accomplishments in research for the fishing industry and its education program in marine literacy for K-12 students.

During meetings with Alaska Sea Grant director Paula Cullenberg and Petersburg Marine Advisory leader Sunny Rice, other members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation—Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young—also expressed strong support for continued funding for the organization.

In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, six senators, including Murkowski and Sullivan, called the proposed cuts “dangerous” and “drastic.” They noted that Sea Grant programs had a national economic impact of $575 million in 2015, representing an 854 percent return on federal investment. Sea Grant created or sustained close to 3,000 businesses and 21,000 jobs annually in a wide range of industries. It also supported nearly 2,000 college and graduate students, training them to protect coastal economies and communities in the years ahead, the senators wrote.

Group photo of 8 people in front of artwork of the US Capitol Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Alaska Sea Grant staff and faculty as well as three Knauss fellows at a reception in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2017. From left to right are Gay Sheffield, Chris Sannito, Sunny Rice, Sen. Murkowski, Paula Cullenberg, Knauss Fellow Kelly Cates, Knauss Fellow Nicole Kanayurak, and Knauss Fellow Charlotte Regula-Whitefield.

In Alaska alone, Sea Grant sustained or created 87 businesses and 363 jobs in 2015-2016. It helped train 330 fishermen and seafood processors in safety, product development and technology to improve their operations.  Nearly 20 graduate students worked on Alaska Sea Grant–funded research projects last year while 1,600 K-12 students learned about ocean and freshwater environments through our marine education programs.

Since 1979, National Sea Grant has supported over 1,000 Knauss Fellows.

“The opportunities provided through this fellowship span the gaps between science and policy across party lines and is integral to the development of our nation as we move forward through the 21st century,” Murkowski said.

Three Alaskans are serving as Knauss fellows this year. Kelly Cates is a fellow at NOAA Legislative Affairs while Charlotte Regula-Whitefield is working for Sen. Murkowski. Both are finishing graduate school in fisheries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Nicole Kanayurak from Barrow, attending the University of Washington, is also working at NOAA as a Knauss fellow. She’s the first Alaska Native to participate in the fellowship program.

“Our delegation clearly encouraged Alaskans to communicate with them about their concerns about the potential cuts to Sea Grant. I hope that they will hear from many of our diverse stakeholders across the state,” Cullenberg said.

“We greatly appreciate our delegation’s support now and in the months ahead as Congress deliberates on how to allocate federal funding,” Cullenberg added.

— By Paula Dobbyn

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.