Fishing industry backs Alaska Sea Grant funding

June 15, 2017

United Fishermen of Alaska

Alaska’s largest commercial fishing trade organization supports continued funding of Alaska Sea Grant.

Alaska Sea Grant is one of 33 programs in coastal and Great Lakes states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam, that is targeted for elimination under the White House’s proposed FY 2018 budget.

National Sea Grant receives about $73 million from Congress annually for research, education and outreach that help supports coastal communities and economies. In return, it creates some $575 million in economic impact, an 854 percent return on investment. Alaska Sea Grant receives about $2 million from Congress, which it leverages to get matching funds from the University of Alaska, as well as grants, donations and program income. Its work focuses on supporting and training members of Alaska’s fishing and seafood industries, sponsoring applied, university research, promoting marine literacy among Alaska students and teachers, and helping Alaska communities understand and adapt to climate change, coastal erosion, flooding and other natural hazards.

In a June 6 letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, United Fishermen of Alaska notes that for every dollar given to Alaska Sea Grant by Congress, “the organization has brought in an additional four dollars of funding with help from the University of Alaska, other grants, and donations.”

Murkowski is a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and chairs a subcommittee on the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

Photo by Dave Partee

The letter also says that Alaska’s commercial fishing industry has experienced a dramatic, positive impact due to Alaska Sea Grant’s work.

“Since 2010 Sea Grant has helped develop commercial fisheries opportunities for the next generation through programs such as the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit; created or sustained over 1,100 jobs; created or strengthened nearly 200 businesses; and well over 1,000 fishermen and processors have been trained.

The Alaska Sea Grant program has also been active in important university-based scientific research; marine science education for Alaska’s K–12 students; and produced and circulated nearly 100,000 marine related documents,” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by Jerry McCune, president of UFA, and Mark Vinsel, executive administrator. UFA represents 34 commercial fishing organizations that participate in fisheries throughout Alaska and in federal waters off the state’s coast. Alaska’s fishing and seafood industries are valued at approximately $6 billion annually.

Alaska Sea Grant has received copies of many other letters sent to the Alaska congressional delegation urging members to support continued funding of the program, a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Other fishing and marine organizations on the list include: Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank; Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation; Alaska Marine Safety Education Association; Alaska Groundfish Data Bank; Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association; Cordova District Fishermen United; Icicle Seafoods, Inc.; North Pacific Fisheries Association; Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.; Oceans Alaska; Petersburg Economic Development Council; and Valdez Fisheries Development Association.

The Alaska congressional delegation has expressed support for continued federal funding of Alaska Sea Grant.

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.

“Sea Grant plays a vital role in Alaska and throughout our coastal communities, with the programs providing essential aspects of applied research, communication, extension, and education,” said Murkowski in April during a reception in D.C.

“For more than four decades, the National Sea Grant programs have aided in spreading economic sustainability and environmental conservation of our nation's bountiful marine resources. Last year alone, Alaska Sea Grant programs accomplished great things, from pioneering health research through a study documenting fisherman health habits and chronic health challenges in the fishing industry, to encouraging environmental literacy through Alaska Seas and Watersheds school grants. I look forward to seeing that level of dedication to our local communities continue,” Murkowski said.

Alaska Sea Grant’s director said she is very grateful for the delegation’s support. Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan signed a bipartisan resolution, backing continued funding for the program.  Rep. Don Young has signed a “Dear Colleague” letter to the House Appropriations Committee, also expressing support for Alaska Sea Grant.

“I remain hopeful that Sea Grant will continue to exist and to serve the needs of coastal residents in Alaska and beyond. We’ve been in Alaska for nearly 50 years. We enjoy strong, bipartisan support and given the powerful return on investment we make, I would hope that Congress will see the wisdom in keeping the program alive,” said Paula Cullenberg.

— 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.