Alaska Sea Grant program “hopeful but not confident” funding won’t be cut

Melissa Good with UAF Alaska Sea Grant collects a sample from a Steller’s sea lion carcass by Unalaska’s Summer Bay. (Photo by John Ryan/KUCB)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received a surprise on Friday: The Trump administration is proposing deep cuts to the organization, which focuses on fisheries and climate science. As reported in the Washington Post, NOAA’s could lose 26 percent of its overall budget. The Sea Grant program, with more than a dozen projects in Alaska, could be hit particularly hard.

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Carol Kaynor is a communication specialist at Sea Grant. She’s worked there for about 25 years.

“This is the wildest ride I ever remember,” Kaynor said.

Last week, she found out the organization could lose all of its federal funding by scrolling through Facebook.

“Part of the reason I’ve worked here so long is that I believe in this program,” Kaynor said. “I think it’s an excellent program and I felt like it made a difference, and that’s a big thing.”

Sea Grant helps train villages to monitor coastal erosion, tracks the economic vitality of the seafood industry and studies the impact of climate change, among many, many other things. The organization supports research at 33 universities nationwide, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Kaynor said Sea Grant plays a vital role nationally and in the state. So the news that the Trump Administration wanted to eliminate program was hard to swallow.

“I was thinking this is crazy. Sea Grant has such a huge return on investment,” Kaynor said. “Why would you cut a program that has a major return on investment when you’re trying to grow the economy? It doesn’t make sense.”

NOAA is administered by the U.S. Department of  Commerce. The Washington Post obtained a memo that said the new administration wants to “prioritize rebuilding the military.” It mentions the “trade offs and choices inherent in pursuing the goals.”

Paula Cullenberg, the Alaska director of Sea Grant, said she’s not sure why the program didn’t make the cut.

“I have no idea … Maybe this was an easy mark and it was something on a spreadsheet that looked available,” Cullenberg said. “As far as I know there wasn’t any in-depth analysis around that.”

Sea Grant has been in Alaska for about 47 years and Cullenberg says the program has been threatened before. She says the Reagan administration tried to nix the funding but Congress chose to reinstate it. This time around, she hopes it goes the same way.

“You know, it feels like a bit of a blow,” Cullenberg said. “A lack of confidence for sure or a lack of support by the administration. I can’t say I’m confident but I’m certainly hopeful.”

The next fiscal year starts in October. The White House and lawmakers will have the upcoming months to decide. Cullenberg is meeting with NOAA this week in Washington, D.C. to discuss a game plan.

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