Potential Alaska Government Shutdown Threatens Fisheries

As Alaska legislators struggle to pass a budget, state agencies, including the Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), are analyzing the impact of a potential discontinuation of services on the state’s multi-billion dollar salmon industry. Should a government shutdown occur, it would come at the peak of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon season, in early July.

ADF&G officials say that not only would fisheries in progress be potentially impacted, but also the agency’s ability to forecast future escapement goal analyses and data collection could be significantly compromised. Lack of sufficient sampling would hurt assessment of the state’s performance for Pacific Salmon Treaty obligations, the department’s ability to manage allocations set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and have an impact on the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock assessment program.

The two state-owned hatcheries annually produce over 4.5 million salmon, rainbow trout and Arctic Char. While ADF&G would take all actions within its power to avoid adverse consequences for the hatcheries, a shutdown could threaten the 2.5 million fish now housed at the hatcheries and prevent collection of Chinook and coho broodstock. Such potential losses could be long-term, surpassing the three to four years required to rebuild the basic broodstock.

With the state’s executive branch hopeful that a budget will pass before July 1, programs and services at ADF&G are continuing as usual. Should a shutdown occur on July 1, ADF&G will start pulling staff back from the field and begin closures as necessary. Meanwhile the state’s Law Department is looking into what money could be spent to continue vital services if a budget is not passed on time.