University of Alaska fisheries college braces for budget cuts

Several hundred of Alaska’s fishery managers are graduates of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, an arm of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. The college offers degree programs in fisheries, marine biology and oceanography. More than half of its nearly 1,000 graduates have come out of the fisheries program and work in the state.

“That is a remarkable number. I don’t know any other fishery department in the country that can say half of their graduates still work in their home state,” said Brad Moran, dean of the college, adding that it has seen steady year-over-year increases in enrollment of undergraduates.

Now Moran and everyone at the college are awaiting fallout from Governor Mike Dunleavy’s evisceration of the larger university budget. The College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, which has a staff and faculty of about 140, also operates campuses in Juneau and Kodiak, and its collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant extends its reach to a dozen more locations.

Moran said nothing is safe.

“There’s not any faculty, staff, student or location that will not be impacted should the veto for the university budget not be overridden,” he said. “That has to be crystal clear. There is nothing that will be left untouched.”

With the dollars that come into Alaska driven by the university, Moran said he just doesn’t get it.

“It’s been shown that for every dollar the state spends, we’re bringing in about $6 university-wide to the state. I don’t see how you cannot say that’s a great return on investment,” said Moran.

That echoes the words of Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of the state Department of Fish & Game, who says his agency’s $200 million annual budget brings $11 billion in economic activity to Alaska.

Moran pointed to the college-operated research icebreaker Sikuliaq, home ported at Seward, as an example.

“We are entrusted to operate a $200 million federal asset in that vessel which is owned and paid for by the National Science Foundation. All of the funding for that ship is externally coming into the state. That’s only one example of state dollars driven by the university,” Moran said.

He added that Alaska’s university teachers and researchers are at the forefront in the world in terms of rapidly changing ocean and Arctic conditions.

“All require basic research and those investments from the federal government are leveraged by the state 1 dollar on 6” dollars, he emphasized.

“You can always look for economies of scale and improvements in cost efficiency,” Moran added. “What you cannot do is drop the hammer overnight to this extent and expect an organization to deliver the same kind of value to the state. But we will do our very best.”

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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