Hawaii & Alaska
NOAA Bering sea pollock fleet prepares to depart Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for another season. (NOAA Fisheries)

Fish funds: Coastal communities fight for Alaska’s fish tax

None of the members of the Alaska Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee lives near the sea, but at a hearing last week they were not impressed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to pull millions of dollars in fish taxes from remote coastal towns.

Bills submitted to the Legislature by the governor would remove the ability of towns to keep their share of local fisheries business and landing taxes. For decades, the taxes have been split 50/50 with the state.

Dunleavy has proposed taking all of the funds for state coffers, meaning a combined loss of $29 million to fishing towns come October.

More than 20 mayors, financial officers, harbormasters and fishermen testified at the committee hearing, outlining how the tax grab would devastate coastal Alaska.

“Fisheries is our only industry, and fish tax revenues make up 26 percent of our $31 million general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way,” said Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for over two decades. “If the state takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist communities across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry, which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities?”

Jon Erickson, Yakutat City/Borough manager, said the loss would likely close down the community’s lone fish plant.

“What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business?” he asked, quoting the governor’s new motto for the state.

“The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League. “They contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago, they support education, hospitals, public works, solid waste, grants to local nonprofits and to replace gaps in state capital investment.”

Pat Branson, Kodiak City mayor, called the tax loss “cost shifting and revenue grabbing” and a “quick fix to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit.”

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