ADFG commissioner touts fisheries management to Legislature

In a hearing before the House Resources Committee last week Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang touted the Alaska Constitution and fisheries management for having some of the best environmental and fisheries policies in the U.S. Not everyone takes that view.

Documents in the presentation also laid out how much the state benefits financially from commercial fisheries versus other uses of fish and game. Commercial fisheries come out on top, supplying jobs to 62,000 direct workers and serving as the largest private employer in the state.

It also provides $163.2 million in taxes and fees to state, local and federal coffers, as well as $5.7 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy, and returns over $3 billion in new money into the U.S. economy.

In a breakdown given to the Legislature, commercial fisheries appear to get the most bang for the buck in terms of economic output and state and private jobs created. Out of the roughly $231 million budget for ADF&G, the FY2023 budget includes $82 million to manage commercial, subsistence and personal use fisheries, and supports 301 full-time positions and 387 permanent part-time positions. That compares to sport fisheries that creates 15,879 direct jobs and a total of 305 permanent and permanent part-time jobs, $1.6 billion industry output and $246 million in taxes, with a budget of $50.6 million.

In his opening statement before the committee, Vincent-Lang said, “Fish and Game has statutory and constitutional mandates. We’re one of the few states where the Fish and Game Departments really has a foundation in our state constitution.”

He said the statutes lay out that the state’s fish, game and other natural resources be managed on a sustained yield basis subject to preferences among beneficial users. “That is a strong statement compared to most other fish and game departments across our nation,” he said, adding that the mandate includes making sure resources are managed for the benefit of the economy and the state.

The state’s environmental record is not so clear.

In an opinion piece in the Alaska Beacon, published Feb. 3, former executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska and Alaska Conservation Alliance Kate Troll, and former state senator Hollis French, who also served as Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation commissioner, point out numerous problems with state management.

They remind Alaskans that Alaska is the only state in the Union, including ones bordering the Great Lakes, that does not have coastal management laws, although it had some of the strongest protections for 20 years.

In 2003, they wrote, former Gov. Frank Murkowski successfully pushed the Legislature to greatly weaken those laws, and former Gov. Sean Parnell allowed those protections to lapse and die.

In 2013, Gov. Parnell managed to do away with the cruise ship industry’s discharge protections approved by voters in 2006, heavily supported by fishermen, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated the budget for the Ocean Rangers monitoring program that was paid for by the cruise industry.

Partly as a result, in a ranking by USA News, Alaska came in dead last among the 50 states in air and water quality, and 29th in pollution.

Among the measures used to evaluate states’ natural environments are drinking water quality, urban air quality and total toxic chemical pollution per square mile. The ranking also considers how much each state puts its citizens at risk for long-term chronic health effects from pollution.

In his presentation to the Legislature, Vincent-Lang cited concerns about the reduced numbers of salmon and crab in the Bering Sea and western Alaska, both of which have crashed in recent years. Many lay those crashes at the feet of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which manages trawling in the Bering Sea.

In another opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News, published earlier this month, Doug Craig Mitchell, an Anchorage attorney who has written two books on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act among others, takes the state to task over appointments to the Council.

Most notably, the governors of Alaska, Washington and Oregon, who are responsible for picking Council members to serve, consistently pick people who are deeply involved in the Bering Sea trawl industry, which is known for catching huge amounts of salmon and crab relied upon by smaller commercial fishermen and subsistence users, at the expense of both.

For example, current seats on the Council include the vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association whose membership includes Trident Seafoods and Unisea, the largest buyers of Bering Sea trawl fish.

Mitchell suggests the Legislature pass a law stating that appointees must not have a financial conflict of interest to serve on the Council.

Cristy Fry can be reached at