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The nation’s top fisheries official visited Kodiak Thursday for a tour of local facilities and to meet with the joint city-borough Fisheries Working Group.

National Marine Fisheries Services Administrator Eileen Sobeck called the creation of Kodiak’s Fish Working Group “admirable” as a forum for keeping government informed and involved.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started this job in January, is the great thing about fishing is it really can’t be separated from the community,” she said.

Sobeck said she sees communities as a “hallmark” of fishing in Alaska.

“Because it's such an important part of state and local economies here, people take decisions about fishing really seriously, put a lot of time and effort into them, have been willing to take risks in innovation in terms of … everything from science to management to the business end of things,” she said.

She said that while NMFS, the federal agency under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in charge of commercial fishing regulation, administers fisheries as a national program, most of the resources and action center in the areas under the jurisdiction of the regional fishery management councils. Sobeck said the national-level staff follows regional issues and reports closely, and looks for opportunities to learn from the public and industry.

“This is a great way for me to wrap my arms around it, even though it’s a very short visit,” she said.

Sobeck toured two fishing vessels, a processing plant and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Research Center on Near Island, which hosts NOAA scientists.

In response to questions about how federal budget restraints could affect the research center and NMFS’s use of science in general, Sobeck said, “We’re going to work together to make that work for both of us.”

“I think our whole management program is premised on good science,” she said. “The work that we’ve done over the decades with Alaska has really exemplified and has probably worked better here than in some other places.

“We have absolutely no interest in retreating from that.”

However, she acknowledged that while most people agree more science would benefit fishery management, they don’t agree where the money should come from.

“That’s on Congress,” she said. “Good science isn’t cheep. It’s a big ocean.”

She noted that the NMFS habitat division has been particularly hard hit by budget cuts, which might lead to some “dangerously poor decisions.”

“Climate change issues, acidification issues — those are tough, and they’re not going to be cheap, either,” Sobeck said.

She said the same is true for research about the future of Arctic fisheries.

“We don’t have a lot more resources, but we’re going to need to think really hard about how best to deploy what we have,” she said.

City and borough fisheries analyst Heather McCarty said Kodiak was the only fishing community on Sobeck’s three-day agenda in Alaska.

“I think it was huge that she came to Kodiak,” McCarty said. “Generally speaking, I think she got a really good taste of the fishing community in Kodiak.”

Sobeck canceled a planned trip to Kodiak earlier this year due to illness. A NMFS deputy administrator visited during the ComFish trade show in April. Paul Doremus, NMFS deputy for operations, visited two weeks ago.

The Fish Group meets next at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 20 in the Borough Conference Room.

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