Alaska’s wildlife is directly tied to its economy, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Campbell, who was appointed to her position in December, talked about the department’s priorities to maintain wildlife abundance, economic opportunities and attracting residents.
“We’re doing a lot of things right and you can look at our wildlife and our fish populations and I think that the Department of Fish & Game can be proud of the work that they’re doing,” she said. “But I think any time you have a transition and new leadership, it’s a good time to sit down and look at what you’re doing and talk about focus areas and priorities and things you want to achieve over the next few years.”
She outlined several such priorities, with a heavy emphasis on outreach and communications with Alaskans about resources that are wanted and needed, along with forming partnerships.
“That’s something that maybe hadn’t been happening enough and I thought it was important to start that conversation,” Campbell said.
She said such outreach goes beyond conversations and partnerships outside the department are needed to aid management challenges in analyzing stocks and harvesting available surplus.
“I think together we can accomplish some of those things that we don’t have the resources to do on our own.”
Increasing such opportunity is another Fish and Game priority. Campbell said.
“We really want to take a look at the species that are available and look for situations where that lack of information is causing us to be maybe more conservative or where something’s going unharvested due to a lack of a market or a lack of a good stock assessment or a good management program,” she said.
She said the department will be targeting places to learn more about shrimp, crab, salmon and groundfish over the next year.
“Related to that, we’re taking a look internally at making sure that all the research that we do is well-aligned with management goals so that the resources we have are being put towards management of the resources that are most important to Alaskans to answer those multiple pressing questions that we have,” she said.
Another large focus is Fish & Game’s response to various federal initiatives to decide which ones enhance opportunities and which ones they don’t agree with.
In relation, she said the department is becoming more proactive with animals on the endangered species list, a subject they deal with consistently.
“When a species is truly in trouble, your state biologists are going to be the first ones who are advocating for protection,” she said. “But what we’re not advocating for is a federal statute that’s being stretched and misused in harming economic opportunity without providing any benefit to our wildlife.”
In response to a question, Campbell said the Department manages for species abundance to promote wildlife tourism.
Ocean zoning is another federal initiative the commissioner is not on board with, advocating for local control instead.
The final priority she addressed was the education and heritage programs on stewardship and skills, which she said goes a long way in developing families and education.
The department’s goals were emphasized with the numbers behind the business of wildlife. Campbell said Juneau commercial fishermen landed 15 million pounds worth $60 million, and the industry creates almost 10,000 jobs in the Southeast, and close to $6 billion statewide that accounts for almost half of the state’s exports.
As for sport fishing, Campbell said the latest data shows $1.4 billion was spent on direct expenditures.
She said besides the spending, all of this generates direct and indirect activity, with that from wildlife viewing especially evident in Juneau. She said nature-based tourism generates around $145 million annually here, calling it a center to the local economy.
Campbell said these numbers are something the Department considers in its decisions, saying they acknowledge the impact they have on the economy as well as influencing choices to live here.
“When you think about Alaska’s economy, I think often the contribution that Fish and Game resources make is underappreciated,” she said, noting this refers more to areas outside the coastal communities.
She said it can still be shocking to Alaskans to hear that the fishing industry is the largest private sector employer, while economic activity generated by fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing can fall off the radar.
“Those are big contributions in an economy this size. It’s a little bit amazing that there isn’t more recognition of some of those types of things.”
The subject of allocations for different user interests also came up, which Campbell said lies outside her authority. She said the Board of Fisheries will meet this winter and will likely discuss the matter, with the state managing those decisions.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.