Disaster declarations for Alaska’s fisheries

Crab fishermen of the Alaskan F/V Artic Lady working in the sea. Photo: Corey Arnold / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
Crab fishermen of the Alaskan F/V Artic Lady working in the sea. Photo: Corey Arnold / Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

In response to a request from Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo declared a fishery disaster determination for certain salmon and crab fisheries in the state last Friday. This measure – which was also supported by U.S. Representative Mary Sattler Peltola and Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, all of whom represent Alaska – serves as a basis for Congress to allocate disaster relief funds.

Aid for salmon and crab fisheries

According to the statement issued last Friday by Secretary Raimondo, the Alaska crab and salmon fisheries that qualify for the fishery catastrophe determination are – in chronological order – the 2020 Copper River/Prince William Sound Coho and Pink Salmon seasons; 2020/2021 Norton Sound Red King Crab; the 2021 Kuskokwim River Salmon and Norton Sound Chum and Coho Salmon; the 2021 Chignik Salmon; and, finally, 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Bering Sea Snow Crab.

As said, this determination serves as the basis for Congress to allocate disaster relief funds. Thereafter, if Congress appropriates those funds for these fisheries, the State of Alaska will work with NOAA Fisheries and affected stakeholders to develop a spending plan. The funds can then be distributed to fishermen and their crews, seafood processors, and research initiatives in the affected regions.

"This is a critical step in the process of getting economic relief for Alaska fishery participants and fishery-related businesses and families", said Alaska Department of Fish and  Game's Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. "We thank the Secretary of Commerce for these disaster determinations and look forward to helping expedite this process where possible", he added.

Satisfaction among Alaska representatives

Following the declaration of the U.S. Department of Commerce's statement, both Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both Alaska Republicans) and Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (Alaska Democrat) welcomed it.  "I want to thank Secretary Raimondo for making these fishery disaster declarations in a timely manner", said Peltola. "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".

"Our fisheries have faced incredible challenges—from the fall red king crab and winter snow crab harvests being cancelled to a number of salmon fishery disasters. These are not only devastating to Alaska's fishing and seafood industry and Alaskan families, but Alaska's economy as a whole", added Murkowski. Likewise, the Senator also recalled that, together with Senator Sullivan, she is working on the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act, a bill that they both co-lead and which has just passed the Senate. "But, as we work to learn as much as we can, as fast as we can, to get to the root of the problem and help Alaska get our fisheries back on track—this vital industry needs support now", she claimed. The Senator also thanked Secretary Raimondo for listening to the urgency of the Alaska Delegation's request and claimed that she is already working on the next step: securing the necessary funds to support these fishing disasters.

Senator Dan Sullivan also spoke along the same lines. "Our state has suffered extraordinary economic hardship over the last few years with the impacts of the pandemic layered on top of an unprecedented number of fishery disasters", he said. "Our great fisheries resources provide a pillar within Alaska's economy and culture. Now that a fishery disaster has been declared, we can work to secure appropriations to fund these fishery disaster declarations. I want to thank Secretary Raimondo for working so closely with the Alaska congressional delegation on these important determinations that will allow for much needed fishery disaster relief to reach Alaskans who are reliant on this resource". fishery disaster relief to reach Alaskans who are reliant on this resource".

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