ADFG cuts aim at logbook program, division directors

Sportfishing guides on Alaska’s rivers and lakes would no longer have to submit logbook records of what their clients catch if the cuts proposed in Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s fiscal year 2020 budget come to fruition.

The elimination of the freshwater sportfish guide logbook program is just one of a handful of changes proposed for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to save money. A letter from acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang to staff sent out on Feb. 13 detailed some of those cuts to accommodate the approximately 4.3 percent proposed cut in the department’s budget.

“As we all know, the state continues to face fiscal challenges in the wake of low oil prices,” Vincent-Lang stated in the letter. “I, along with our budget team and the staff at the Office of Management and Budget, have worked diligently over the last six weeks to align our programs with our core services and identify areas of opportunity for efficiencies.”

Those cuts include moving the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Division of Commercial Fisheries, eliminating the director positions for the Habitat and Subsistence divisions, a 50 percent travel reduction for all divisions, eliminating General Fund support for Special Wildlife Viewing Areas as well as eliminating the logbook program.

Currently, sportfishing guides have to meticulously record the fish their clients catch and submit them in a timely manner to the state so biologists can get a better idea of harvest rates and some survey information on stocks that may not be monitored.

The department enumerates and tracks many runs of fish, especially salmon, using weirs and sonars, but the expense makes it impossible for all species on all rivers. Even some major stocks, such as coho salmon on the Kenai River, are not tracked by sonar or weir every year, though the department conducts periodic assessments in the river.

This applies to guides both in freshwater and saltwater.

Guides on the ocean would still have to record and submit logbooks, but the freshwater program would go away entirely, said Samantha Gatton, the acting director of administrative services for ADFG. Together, the salt and freshwater guide programs cost between $650,000 to $690,000 annually, she said.

“(The freshwater logbook program) would just go away,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have fisheries biologists out in the field.”

ADFG biologists regularly travel to remote locations all over the state in a variety of vehicles to monitor fisheries and wildlife, from periodic aerial salmon surveys to diving surveys for clams to moose collaring.

Beyond just the staff, members of the regulatory boards of Fisheries and Game travel from their respective regions to where the regulatory meetings are being held. A 50 percent travel reduction would impact the entire department, including the boards.

Gatton said the goal is to eliminate unnecessary travel. The department leaders also want to find ways to use technology instead of flying for some meetings, for example, which could save the time and expense for the boards. It might also improve logistics, she said — travel in Alaska can often be unpredictable.

The changes to the CFEC aren’t coming from nowhere; former governor Bill Walker’s administration also tried to consolidate some of the agency’s functions into Fish and Game through an administrative order issued in early 2016.

The CFEC, which administers the limited entry permit system for Alaska’s commercial fisheries, has been plagued by complaints of inefficiency in both expense and permit adjudication.

A judge blocked the implementation of the administrative order in August 2016 and the Walker administration put the action on hold to consult more stakeholders. In the case of Dunleavy’s budget, the consolidation of the CFEC would have to be done through statute approved by the Legislature, Gatton said.

Though contained within ADFG, the CFEC would retain independence in functions like permit adjudication, but sharing services and other expenses like office space could result in savings, Gatton said.

“They would be creating efficiencies,” she said. “You’re kind of duplicating a lot of services right now.”

Of all the state departments, ADFG is proposed to take one of the smallest cuts. That may be in part because the department has been working to shift away from its dependence on the General Fund to operate, Gatton said.

When the Legislature authorized the department to raise its fees for sportfishing and hunting licenses, that helped access more federal funds and split the cost between user fees and federal dollars rather than relying on the state. The Division of Commercial Fisheries did not shift at the same time, so has experienced more general fund cuts as the Legislature has cut the budget over the past three years, she said.

The specific cuts to the department were made in “a collaborative effort” between the Office of Management and Budget and ADFG, Gatton said.

“The goal here at Fish and Game is to continue to do our core functions … while learning to operate within what we’re given,” she said.

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Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
02/20/2019 - 10:16am

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