State budget crunch to impact fish, game rule making

Nov 20, 2015

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is looking for ways to cut down on the state Board of Fisheries budget – including the possibility of switching to a four- or five-year meeting cycle.

The Nushagak Advisory Committee in October 2015 discusses proposals up for consideration at the Board of Fisheries' Bristol Bay meeting.
Credit KDLG News

Like most facets of state government, the fisheries and game boards are looking for ways to cut spending in light of declining oil revenue. One possibility is switching the Board of Fisheries to a four- or five-year cycle, which would mean proposed changes in each region, including Bristol Bay, were taken up less frequently. 

Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight provided the board with a memo about some of its options for saving money. Changing the meeting cycle is just one option, he said.

“Changing the board meeting cycle to four or five years, that’s just one thing that the board could look at," he said. "Certainly with that one, it’s really concerning for the board, because the three year cycle is very solid, it’s been around for a long time, and they don’t feel comfortable just jumping in and changing something like that without a lot of input and a lot of thought.”

The Board of Fish spends about $240,000 to hold all of its regulatory meetings in an average year. It’s looking at a budget shortfall next year of $170,000, even before expected five or 10 percent budget cuts as the state deals with a massive drop in revenue.

Other cost-saving options include reducing meeting expenses, getting rid of the honorarium for the big game commercial services board, or even capping the number of proposals the board considers at each meeting.

Haight said limiting proposals would probably create bigger savings for Fish and Game, rather than the board itself, because of the time and effort the department puts into each proposal. But Haight said any major change to how the board operates will take extensive consideration, as the board wants to ensure that the public still has access to the rule-making process.

"The public process is what people really like about the board of fisheries, and the board of game, so the board is very cautious about any thoughts about changing something like that," Haight said.

Haight said the boards of Fish and Game will meet December 9, the day after the Bristol Bay finfish meeting, to have a preliminary discussion on all the options. 

“I wouldn’t see anything happening at this particular meeting," he said. "This is for scoping purposes, so they can really just look at various ideas, and see if they want to get further information.”

Representatives from Bristol Bay advisory committees told KDLG News they didn’t think switching to a four or five year cycle would be a problem, as the board can address major issues out of cycle.

And while the options include cutting the budget for advisory committees, Haight said that will be done by carefully managing funds, not by getting rid of the in-person committee meetings.

"Those are really critical, those face to face meetings," he said. "Particularly when you talk about advisory committees that have a meeting that cycle, they really do need those."

The joint board committee is taking written comments on possible cost-savings through Dec. 4, and will also take public testimony at the meeting.