Dunleavy Q&A: Rural education, public safety and how to pay for it

NOORVIK — Dec. 3 marked the first day on the job for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the Republican former state senator who won a lopsided victory over Democrat Mark Begich. Speaking to inauguration crowds in Northwest Alaska, Dunleavy repeated campaign promises of battling crime — “We are not going to tolerate any more sexual assault,” he said in Kotzebue — and improving rural education. He has also vowed to deliver a super-sized Permanent Fund dividend after his predecessor, independent Gov. Bill Walker, fell out of favor, in part, because of his insistence on using fund earnings to help pay for government services. As a candidate, Dunleavy was criticized by opponents who said his promises would eventually deplete Alaska’s piggy bank without refilling it through taxes or other means. Now joined by a Republican-controlled Legislature, Dunleavy takes the reins with the potential to make big changes to life in Alaska. Hours after he was sworn in to the state’s highest political office, Dunleavy spoke to Daily News reporters about what he plans to do and how he says he would pay for it. Q. You talked today in Kotzebue and Noorvik about public safety in particular Bush public safety — saying it was your top priority? A. That is job No. 1. We have to make sure that Alaskans are safe whether it’s urban Alaska or rural Alaska. And that is what we are gonna focus on. Q. There are dozens of villages with no police at all. What is the state’s role in fixing that problem? A. We have a role to make sure folks are safe. This is our first day. It’s a couple hours old, this administration. But we’re going to be having meetings this week about how to put our public safety approach into place. We’ll be naming a couple more cabinet members on Wednesday. Once we do that, we’re going to start to roll out a series of initiatives to make Alaska safer. Q. Were any prosecutors fired today? A. I’d have to double check on that. I know that a number of folks got a letter to send in their resignations and I know that there’s going to be some discussions with people. The vast majority of people are going to end up most likely being brought back into the administration. Q. The one thing I didn’t hear you say today — but speakers in Noorvik talked about — was climate change or global warming and their concerns about the weather. What’s the state’s responsibility? A. I came from Pennsylvania, which was a smokestack state. Places like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. Alaska’s footprint in terms of being a contributor to pollution or however you want to word it is pretty small compared to other states in the U.S. So my focus has been trying to create jobs for our kids and grandkids so they don’t have to leave the state. The issue of global warming, in many respects, it’s still being debated as to how to deal with it, what exactly is causing it. I know there’s a lot of folks and scientists who believe that man is contributing to this. But the question is, what is Alaska’s role in this? What is Alaska doing? Alaska is being affected by erosion, there’s no doubt about it. Whether it’s Barrow, Kivalina, Shishmaref and points south. So that’s going to be the focus of this administration and the federal government, is working together and seeing what are we going to do with those communities. Because if the storms keep rolling in, obviously there is going to be more erosion. Q. Today you talked about not closing rural schools. You talked about beefing up police in the Bush and keeping your promise on a big dividend. All those things are expensive. How can you pay for them when we are in a time of low revenues and bad prospects? A. You pay for the PFD with $19 billion in the Earnings Reserve. That’s not a hard one. Q. Isn’t it less than $19 billion? A. $18 billion, 800 million. Projected to grow over the next couple months. Probably will surpass $20 billion here shortly. But nonetheless, that’s how you pay for the PFD. We’re starting to crack open the administration right now and looking at the number of jobs that were not filled. Maybe the number of jobs that we don’t need. We can move some of those resources into public safety. That will be the first thing that is budgeted is public safety … you can’t fix it unless you do that. Your educational system, what I’ve talked about is working with governmental entities, the federal government, tribes and others to potentially build dorm capacity in some of our regional hubs like Kotzebue. And they’ve already done that. We have dorms in Kotzebue. But how many other dorms do they need for term type of regional schools where kids, for example, from Noorvik can go to Kotzebue and learn how to drive. Get certifications in a number of different areas. Take some challenging courses such as physics labs and biology labs, which you might not be able to get in a smaller school. That’s what we’re looking at doing, but partnering with the federal government, partnering with some of the tribes. Q. After the quake hit, did you think about whether or not to have the ceremony today and wonder if it might pull you away for too long from where you’re needed? A. Well sure, we had that debate. We didn’t know the extent of the damage. We didn’t know the extent of the attention it was going to need for our administration, which wasn’t in place yet. We had those discussions with the governor. We had those discussions with the first responders at the command center down at JBER and within our own transition team. And it was touch-and-go up until a day or so ago. But thank God the injuries weren’t there. Certainly no deaths, which is a miracle. We didn’t have any pancaked buildings. We didn’t have any bridges actually come down. So the damage was, given the size of that earthquake and the aftershocks, the damage was a lot less than I think most of us thought. So the response to deal with that is more than adequate. Folks out here put a lot of effort into this event, so we figured we could get out this morning, do the event and get back. We’ll be back in Anchorage by about 5 o’clock. In many respects about commitment. We wanted to have it here. We told them we were coming. People spent a lot of time, a lot of energy putting this together. … It was important. Too often there are parts of Alaska that feel forgotten.

Survey again shows drop in halibut stocks in Gulf of Alaska

Things aren’t looking good for many Alaska halibut fishermen next year, though official quota limit decisions are still to come. The 2018 stock status report presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its interim meeting on Nov. 27 shows yet another drop in the biomass of Pacific halibut in the North Pacific — about 7 percent down from the 2017 fishery-independent setline survey. That doesn’t mean every single region dropped, as it’s an average, but Alaska’s three main areas of effort — 2C, the entirety of Region 3, and Region 4 excluding the western Aleutian Islands — all dropped. The most significant drop was in Area 2, which stretches from northern California to Southeast, falling 15 percent. Region 3, which stretches across the Gulf of Alaska out to the Alaska Peninsula, fell 7 percent. Halibut stocks dropped year-over-year from the late 1990s through 2011, when it appears to have stabilized, according to the report. “That trend is estimated to have been largely a result of decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed during the 1980s,” the report states. The spawning female biomass stabilized in 2011, increasing the stock through 2016, with a projected spawning biomass of 190 million pounds at the beginning of 2019. Researchers are linking the fluctuations with favorable ocean conditions in connection with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, an ocean temperature trend correlated with fisheries regimes. Historically, conditions were favorable from 1978–2006 and poor from 2007–13, with more positive indications from 2014 through October 2018. However, that’s not the only variable playing into ocean conditions for halibut in the North Pacific. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska jumped in 2015 and remained anomalously high for several years, earning the warm water mass the nickname “the Blob,” and wreaking widespread havoc on fish stocks and leading to uncertainty for forecasters. “Many other environmental indicators, current and temperature patterns have been anomalous relative to historical periods and therefore historical patterns of productivity related to the (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) may not be relevant to the most recent few years,” the report states. Though conditions have been favorable, the cohorts from 2006–10 were smaller than the prior few years, which will affect abundance as time goes on and those age cohorts become a more significant part of the fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set its quota limits at its annual meeting in January. Last year, when the stock status led to recommendations for significant cuts to harvest, the commissioners could not come to an agreement and decided to have the U.S. and Canada set their fisheries limits independently, though no higher than the previous year. The stock status report doesn’t make direct recommendations for fishing limits but projects how fisheries limits will impact the population. For all total constant exploitation yield amounts, or TCEY — all halibut mortality for fish longer than 26 inches, including bycatch and research kills — more than 20 million pounds, the stock is project to decline from 2019–21. At the status quo TCEY of 37.2 million pounds total, there’s a 30 percent chance of a stock decline of at least 5 percent in 2019 that climbs to a 79 percent chance by 2022, according to the report. Total mortality of Pacific halibut in 2018 was about 38.7 million pounds. The commercial halibut catch, though — about 23.5 million pounds — was actually an all-time low for the last 10 years, according to the report. Bycatch mortality fell to 6.1 million pounds, the lowest since the arrival of foreign fishing fleets in 1962. Mortality from recreational catches was down as well, about 5 percent lower than 2017. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is scheduled hold its full annual meeting from Jan. 28–Feb. 1 in Victoria, British Columbia. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: More cuts to halibut harvest expected in 2019

Alaska fishermen are bracing for more cuts to their halibut harvest next year. Results of this year’s surveys showed that the Pacific stock from California to the Bering Sea continues to decline, and will likely result in lower catches. “We estimate that the stock went down until around 2010 from historical highs in the late 1990s. It increased slightly over the subsequent five years and leveled out around 2015 or 2016 and has been decreasing slowly in spawning biomass (total weight of mature fish to catch) since then,” said Ian Stewart, lead stock assessment scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, at its interim meeting last week in Seattle. The IPHC oversees the Pacific halibut resource and sets annual catch limits for the U.S. and British Columbia. A summary of the 2018 data show that coastwide fishery landings were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. For Alaska, the total halibut take was nearly 16.7 million pounds, 5 percent shy of the fishery limit. Total halibut removals by all users, including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds in 2018. Sixty-one percent of the catch went to commercial fisheries; recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence use. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all taken by trawl gear. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, halibut bycatch is projected at 3.5 million pounds, primarily by Seattle trawlers fishing for flatfish. The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017. Nearly 2,000 fishermen participate in Alaska’s halibut fishery. Catch limits for 2019 will be revealed by the IPHC in Vancouver in January. Warm water watch In recent years, IPHC scientists have included ecosystem impacts in their assessments of the Pacific halibut stock, such as how the fish are reacting to warming oceans. At the IPHC meeting, Ian Stewart referenced the massive, warm blob in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 through 2017 and said remains of it appear to be hanging around. “We’ve seen a continued presence of warm surface waters through the fall of 2018. It’s not quite the magnitude of the previous blob, but it is definitely different from what would be the norm in the North Pacific,” Stewart said. “Particularly of note, and relevant to halibut in Region 4 (Bering Sea), which means halibut across the entire coast because much of the coastwide recruitment likely comes from Region 4,” Stewart added, “is the fact that there was virtually no sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea. And that led to no cold pool in the summer, that being a tongue of cold bottom water that extends southward, generally corresponding to the extent of ice cover in the winter time.” The lack of that cold pool, he said, has caused big behavioral changes. “It’s led to more than half the cod biomass being distributed in the northern Bering Sea north of the normal survey grid, and a northward shift as well of pollock, although not quite as extreme,” Stewart said. “We saw a shift as well in Pacific halibut on the order of about a 20 percent increase in density between 2017 and 2018 in the northern Bering Sea.” The halibut scientists also track Pacific Decadal Oscillations that show recurring patterns of ocean/atmospheric climate variability. Stewart said the PDO is used as an index of halibut productivity. “A positive PDO tends to correspond to relatively warm and relatively productive conditions in the North Pacific. On average, this tends to be correlated with the level of halibut recruitment, historically,” he said. “We have seen a period starting in 2014 of relatively positive values, with 2018 moving back to almost a neutral value.” Salmon stats The average chinook salmon caught by Alaska fisherman this year weighed 11.6 pounds and paid out at nearly $70 per fish, or more than a barrel of oil. That’s just one of the interesting stats to come out of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s 2018 salmon season wrap up. The fishery ranks as one of the most valuable on record to fishermen at nearly $596 million, and at just over 114 million salmon, one of the smallest harvests in 34 years. The average ex-vessel, or dockside, price per salmon in 2018 was $5.20 per pound, up more than $2 from 2017. The average salmon price paid to Alaska fishermen was 98 cents per pound. Each sockeye salmon was valued at $7 for fishermen, on average, and it was those fish that saved the day for a fishery that was a bust Gulf-wide. Sockeyes accounted for 44 percent of the total 2018 salmon harvest and nearly 60 percent of the value. Statewide, fishermen caught 50 million reds valued at $350 million. Fewer than 9 million of the fish came from non-Bristol Bay regions where catches were the worst in more than four decades. At Bristol Bay, a catch of over 41 million reds was the second-largest ever. It also was the most valuable catch for fishermen, topping $281 million. After bonuses and postseason adjustments are added in, that could climb to more than $335 million, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon run in the world and the fishery accounted for 57 percent of global sockeye production this year. It’s the third year in a row that Bristol Bay has accounted for more than half of world supply. Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports for the key sales months of July and August show a first wholesale value of Bristol Bay frozen and fresh sockeye products was 36 percent higher than last year. The average wholesale value increased from $4.01 to $4.51 per pound and sales volume increased 21 percent. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged $1.26 a pound for their sockeyes this summer, up from $1.02 last year, but 43 cents less than the average of sockeyes caught elsewhere. At Prince William Sound, sockeyes paid out at $2.71 per pound to fishermen; Cook Inlet averaged $2.27; Kodiak fishermen got $1.56 and sockeyes averaged $1.23 per pound at the Alaska Peninsula. Fishermen in other Alaska regions averaged $1.69 for their red salmon. Find more information about Alaska sockeye salmon at www.bbrsda.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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