Seawatch: Federal cuts could hurt fishing industry

Alaska fishermen and others who rely on programs funded by the federal government are wondering whether the federal resources will be available to keep the industry safe and productive.

The budget submitted by the Trump administration calls for drastic cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies such as National Marine Fisheries Services, as well as satellite data that is used for marine weather forecasting.

Alaska’s two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, are among a group of only three Republicans, joining Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who added their names to an additional 20 Democrats decrying the cuts.

Cuts to the Coast Guard, estimated at around $1.3 billion, or 14 percent, would come at a time when there is additional pressure to maintain a presence in the Arctic as fisheries, oil exploration and shipping are ramping up in an increasingly ice-free polar region.

Murkowski and Sullivan sent a letter to the White House to try to explain the problems with the cuts.

“We are concerned that the Coast Guard would not be able to maintain maritime presence, respond to individual and national emergencies, and protect our nation’s economic and environmental interests” if the budget cuts go forward, the letter said.

Perhaps the most short-sighted cuts could come to the Sea Grant program, operated through the University of Alaska.

Serving Alaskans for around 50 years, the Sea Grant program has helped educate Alaskans in coastal communities with a variety of resources, and has seen a substantial return on investment, according to an article in Alaska Dispatch News.

“Why would you cut a program that has a major return on investment when you’re trying to grow the economy?” asked Carol Kaynor, Sea Grant communications specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe this was an easy mark and something on a spreadsheet that looked available,” Sea Grant director Paula Cullenberg told Alaska’s Energy Desk in Juneau. “As far as I know there wasn’t any in-depth analysis around that.”

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan urged caution.

“The president’s budget request is simply that, a request. Congress holds the power of the purse, and will ultimately fund the federal government,” Sullivan said in an email to ADN.

Sullivan added that he had spoken with other members of the Trump administration about the importance of Alaska’s fishing industry and the necessity of federal research.

Cristy Fry can be reached at