Upon listening to a tale of woe about crumbling fish hatcheries and declining wildlife surveys in Alaska, the Juneau-Douglas Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council agreed Thursday to support the state Department of Fish and Game's legislative drive to increase sportfish and hunting fees.
Resident hunting fees would double to $50 and the costlier nonresident hunting fees would also increase by amounts ranging between $15 and $75. Resident fishing licenses would increase $5 and nonresident licenses would increase in amounts between $5 and $25.
The proposed fee increases would generate an estimated extra $3.5 million for wildlife conservation and $5.3 million for fish hatcheries.
State officials said their proposal has the support of Gov. Frank Murkowski.
"We realize it's going to be controversial. At least now when it comes up in the Legislature, it won't be a surprise," said Matt Robus, Fish and Game's director of wildlife conservation.
He added his agency is open to other funding sources to preserve fish and wildlife projects, but if nothing is done, the consequences could be dire for hunters, fishermen and state employees.
The inevitable cost would be "fewer permits, shorter seasons, lower bag limits" and potential job cuts in the department, Robus said.
After questioning Robus and other Fish and Game employees on a few specific fee hikes, the advisory council members present at the meeting in Juneau unanimously voted to support the agency's proposal, which has also received support from the Anchorage and Delta advisory committees. Some other committees have voted against it.
"Your agency deserves it," said committee member Linnea Osborne, who said she pays more for her daughter's birthday than she pays to hunt and fish in Alaska.
Because of the loss of state general fund revenue, inflation and several expensive capital projects mandated by the Alaska Legislature, the Wildlife Conservation Division has for the last few years spent more than it's taken in.
The result is a $2 million deficit and an inability to do numerous hunting surveys throughout the state.
Fish and Game would like to be able levy wildlife fees on "nonconsumptive users," such as cruise ship passengers, and restore funding from the general fund. "Unfortunately we are forced to go to the one well we've had - the hunter and the trapper," Robus said.
In Southeast Alaska, the lack of wildlife funds has led to fewer and fewer goat surveys and, in general, more conservative decisions for goat hunts, said Juneau area game management biologist Neil Barten.
Barten also lacks funding for habitat studies in Berners Bay to gather supporting evidence for an expanded moose hunt. And no one is conducting wildlife studies on the upper Taku River, he said. "The less money that I have the more that I sit at my desk," Barten said.
Fish license fee hikes would support new hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks and needed maintenance at a Petersburg chinook salmon hatchery, which used to receive a third of its financial support from the Sustainable Salmon Fund. The fund is now dried up, officials said.
The money would also be used to assist the city of Skagway's hatchery to switch from its Stikine River salmon stock to a new stock.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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