Around the State

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2000

State struggles to fill job vacancies

JUNEAU -- The state is scrambling to fill jobs that are usually in demand.

Positions for biologists, nurses, engineers and information technology experts are vacant for lack of qualified applicants, according to state recruiters. So are jobs for clerks, accountants, managers and administrative assistants.

Personnel division director Sharon Barton said the state is even thinking of ways to attract retired employees back to the work force to help fill the void. She's been looking for a manager for her division for 17 months now and simply can't find one, she said.

The state historically has had trouble finding employees for some positions, including nursing jobs, Barton said. But the problem has gotten worse in the past two years and now also includes clerical jobs.

The state doesn't track recruitment trends on a statewide basis, so Barton based her conclusions on anecdotal information from agencies that have come to her for help.

Barton put part of the blame for the tight labor market on the robust national economy, but says it goes deeper than that.

''Here in Alaska ... we're just not cranking out of our schools the engineers and the nurses and other job classes that we need within the state,'' she told the Juneau Empire.

Stevens spurns $75 million in compensation

FAIRBANKS -- The Clinton administration proposed paying Alaska fishers $75 million to compensate for a halt to groundfish harvests near habitat of endangered Steller sea lions, Sen. Ted Stevens says, but he rejected the money as inadequate.

The Alaska Republican says he will continue to push for legislation lifting a court-ordered ban on bottom fishing near rookeries and haulouts.

Congress returns Dec. 5 to finish a few spending bills that remained when it adjourned prior to the election. Stevens said his language lifting the ban will be in the final legislation.

Alaska's fishing industry was staggered last July when U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of Seattle halted bottom fishing in sea lion critical habitat ''until further order of this court.'' The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by environmental groups.

The restricted areas include three huge ocean zones and 20-mile rings, more than 120 of them, around sea lion rookeries and haulouts from Prince William Sound to Kodiak to the western Aleutians.

The judge rapped the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to prepare legally adequate biological opinions assessing how the commercial fisheries affect sea lions and how fisheries can be managed to avoid jeopardizing the species.

After the judge's sweeping closure, the fall season pollock catch totaled only 22 million pounds, less than a third of the quota.

The next pollock season is scheduled for January, but the judge could decide the fisheries service hasn't yet conducted the analysis required by law. The service expects to release a new biological opinion on Thursday.

Stevens says he believes the agency's biological opinion will back the argument that fishing near haulouts and rookeries is the problem. He doesn't think scientific research so far supports that conclusion, though, and plans legislation that would end the fishing ban.

A $75 million payment to the fishers wouldn't make up for the lost fish, Stevens said.

''We pointed out to them (administration officials) that the pollock fishermen just initiate this economy,'' he said. Processors, transporters, distributors and restaurants all depend on the fish, he said.

--The Associated Press

''Seventy-five million wouldn't even touch the effect on the economy of this decision,'' he said.

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