Anchorage Daily News: Federal government declares disasters for Alaska fisheries
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commerce Department on Friday announced a series of fishery disaster declarations in Alaska dating back to 2020, a key step toward securing federal disaster assistance.
Now that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has made the determination, the fisheries are eligible to receive disaster assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, if Congress appropriates the necessary funds.
The announcement comes months after Alaska officials canceled this year’s Bering Sea king and snow crab fishing seasons due to dramatically diminishing populations, with impacts rippling across the industry and Alaska communities.
“These are not only devastating to Alaska’s fishing and seafood industry and Alaskan families, but Alaska’s economy as a whole,” Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement.
“I thank Secretary Raimondo for listening to the urgency of the Alaska Delegation’s request and understanding the importance of not only granting these disaster declarations, but doing so expeditiously. I’m now working diligently on the next step — securing the funding necessary to support these fishery disasters,” she said.
The newly declared fishery disasters are:
• 2022-2023 Alaska Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries
• 2021-2022 Alaska Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries
• 2021 Alaska Kuskokwim River salmon, Norton Sound chum and coho salmon fisheries
• 2021 Chignik salmon fishery
• 2020 and 2021 Alaska Norton Sound red king crab fisheries
• 2020 Copper River/Prince William Sound coho and pink salmon fisheries
The Alaska congressional delegation and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy had been pushing for the determinations. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola and Murkowski sent a Nov. 15 letter pressing Raimondo to declare the disasters.
Sullivan and Murkowski also sent a letter to Raimondo alongside Washington Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell emphasizing the economic impact of their states’ fishing crises. Raimondo also declared two fishery disasters in Washington state.
Their letter cites a state of Alaska estimate of $287.7 million in ex-vessel losses from the Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons.
The Commerce Department’s announcement comes just days after a Sullivan and Murkowski-led bill creating an Alaska Salmon Research Task Force passed in the Senate. The task force would study Pacific salmon trends and develop a strategy aiming to support Alaska salmon runs.
All three members of the Alaska delegation noted that Congress still has to deliver the necessary funds in order for fisheries to get disaster assistance.
“Our great fisheries resources provide a pillar within Alaska’s economy and culture,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Now that a fishery disaster has been declared, we can work to secure appropriations to fund these fishery disaster declarations.”
Peltola sent a letter in October to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro requesting that $250 million be included in the end-of-year government spending package to fund fishery disaster assistance.
“This is an important first step and I will continue to work with Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan to secure additional funding needed to provide relief to the Alaskan fishing communities impacted by poor returns and closed fisheries while stocks have a chance to recover,” Peltola said in a statement.
By: Riley Rogerson
Source: Anchorage Daily News