Can you have fishing and hunting in Alaska without a Department of Fish and Game?
Alaskans and visitors may find out in a few weeks if the State government shuts down July 1 because of the Alaska Legislature cannot agree on a budget. All State workers have gotten layoff notices that a shutdown is possible and with no resolution on the horizon in Juneau, that possibility looms large.
While basics like no fishing reports, fish counts or enforcement officers on the water are obvious, the impact could be far reaching if state hatcheries, for example, must shut down just as they are collecting king salmon to spawn the fish for future seasons. And July is the very peak of commercial fishing seasons, that rely on a range of State services from forecasting to monitoring.
Thursday Governor Bill Walker’s office sent out press releases on the impact the shutdown would have on each state department.
Alaska’s several billion-dollar salmon industry is primarily based on fisheries that occur between the months of June and September. These fisheries provide the sole means of subsistence and livelihood for many Alaskans.
For commercial fishing:
“A government shutdown would coincide with the peak of the Bristol Bay sockeye season, which regularly occurs around July 4. Not only would current season fisheries be potentially impacted, the department’s ability to forecast future escapement goal analyses and data collection could also be significantly compromised. Insufficient sampling could hinder assessment of the state’s performance for Pacific Salmon Treaty obligations, the department’s ability to manage allocations set by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and impact the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock assessment program.
“The issuance of subsistence and drawing permits could be delayed, interrupted or even not issued, creating food insecurity, cultural and economic impacts, as well as loss of hunting opportunities. Additionally, hunts with in-season management, permitting, or reporting could potentially be delayed or cancelled. This includes hunts managed by quota such as Nelchina caribou, most western Alaska moose hunts, and all goat hunts. Hunts for sheep could also potentially close or be delayed due to sealing requirements.”
One very troubling impact, for one state program that cannot run on auto pilot, is the critical state hatchery program. Those hatcheries are a key component in salmon and trout fisheries throughout the state. It’s unclear how the department would keep those hatcheries running, spawning on going and current stocks alive with a shutdown:
“Alaska’s two state-owned hatcheries annually produce over 4.5 million salmon, rainbow trout, and Arctic Char. Although the department will take all actions within its authority to avoid adverse consequences for the hatcheries, a shutdown could threaten the 2.5 million fish currently housed at the hatchery, and prevent the collection of Chinook and Coho brood stock. These potential losses could be long-term, surpassing the three to four years required to rebuild the basic brood stock.”
Here are additional Fish and Game services at risk if a fully funded budget is not passed before July 1 include:
- Prevention of, and response to, encounters with wildlife such as moose, bears or musk ox.
- Issuing or amending Title 16 permits from the Division of Habitat, which could delay or halt many projects
- Responding to emergency resource conservation situations
- Timely release of the 2017-2018 proposal books
- Timely meetings to inform the public to engage and participate in the regulatory process
- Operation of state shooting ranges
- Operation of McNeil River and Round Island wildlife viewing areas
“The programs and services at Fish and Game will continue on their normal course through the month of June. Only if a shutdown occurs on July 1 will the department begin to pull their staff back from the field and begin working on any closures that need to occur,” the release concluded.
This is an evolving story.