Senate president criticizes governor's veto of seafood marketing funds

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed $10 million in funding for the state agency charged with marketing Alaska seafood, with the message that he would “re-evaluate future funding needs after development of a marketing plan.”

That doesn’t make sense to the state Senate president. “Waiting doesn’t help at all,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, from the commercial fishing hub of Kodiak.

“It’s a very shortsighted view of the industry. Now is the time to help it out, not to just delay things,” Stevens said last week. The governor vetoed the funding on June 30 as part of the state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.

“The governor is always saying that we want to tell the world that we are open for business, but nothing says, ‘We’re closed for business’ more than cutting these funds,” Stevens said.

Last year, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute received $5 million in state funding. Before then, it had not received any state general funds since June 2018. The institute relies mainly on federal and industry payments: This year, the institute is expected to receive $13 million in federal funds and $16.2 million from industry assessments.

Stevens described the condition of Alaska’s fishing industry as “pretty miserable.”

“I’ve been involved in the fishing industry since 1970 and it’s just the worst I have ever seen,” said Stevens, who is also one of six legislators who are nonvoting members of the ASMI board.

If the agency submits a detailed marketing plan, the governor could include funding in the state’s supplemental budget during the next legislative session, the governor’s office said.

“The Dunleavy administration has offered support of supplemental funding next session once ASMI has developed a comprehensive marketing plan,” said Jeff Turner, the governor’s communications director.

Alaska’s $6 billion seafood industry employs over 48,000 workers annually in the state, according to a report commissioned by ASMI. The agency works to develop new and expanded markets for Alaska seafood.

The veto comes at a time when Alaska’s fishing industry is in crisis, facing low consumer demand and steep competition from Russia, which has been unloading lower-priced salmon on the global market.

The marketing agency’s main priority is the U.S. market, said executive director Jeremy Woodrow. A strong dollar and weak yen have made Alaska seafood less price competitive in Japan, a key global market, he said.

In 2022, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that prohibited Russian seafood imports into the U.S., further tightening the ban this spring. The prohibition has created a “hole” in the domestic seafood market that ASMI is looking to fill with Alaska seafood, Woodrow said.

Tracy Welch, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, described the veto as a “missed opportunity” to support the state’s fishers, processors and coastal communities.

“ASMI has operated on a shoestring budget for quite a few years, and so they do a lot with what they’re given, so I have confidence that they’ll do as best they can,” she said.

Despite her faith in the institute’s ability to “get creative” with the smaller budget, she emphasized the crisis that the seafood industry is currently facing. “The industry needs help now,” said Welch. “Not two years from now.”

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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