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In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, Alaka’s representative in the U.S. House, Mary Sattler Peltola asked them to consider appropriating disaster relief funds for those affected by this year’s total harvest closures of the snow crab and red crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. This support for the crab fleet is in addition to Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, who also sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo requesting a fisheries disaster declaration. Affected fishermen, processors and communities estimated the total loss of ex-vessel value at approximately $202 million, Peltola is now asking for $250 million.

Environmentally necessary, economically devastating

As Mary Sattler Peltola highlited in her letter, this is the first time ever that the Bering Sea snow crab harvest is closed, and the second consecutive closed season for the fall red king crab harvest. “Thousands of boat owners, crew members, seafood processor workers, wholesalers, retailers and service industry workers are and will be affected by this biologically and environmentally necessary — but economically devastating — shutdown of their livelihood”, she said. “Unfortunately, this is not a one-time event that is easily handled by individuals and communities dependent on the annual harvest. Last year’s snow crab harvest was the smallest in more than 40 years”, she added.

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With this petition, Peltola, the first Alaska Native member of Congress, seems to make good on her campaign slogan, ‘Fish, Family & Freedom’. In the text, the Congresswoman-elect said that while the hope and intent of these fishery management closures are to rebuild healthy and sustainable crab stocks, until industry participants can get back out on the water and make a living, they will need to stay afloat economically. “Disaster funding is certainly not a long-term alternative to a productive fishery and sustainable harvest, but it is a crucial way to support people, communities and their jobs while we simultaneously support rebuilding the crab stocks”, she wrote.

Crab stocks recover, the ultimate objective

Peltola’s arguments are very much in line with those of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers who, along with ten other organizations and municipalities, were the first to call for this economic relief and also proposed a fishery management plan to make all fisheries sustainable and resilient. Like them, the U.S. representative recalls that the scientists continue to research the causes of these declines in the crab populations which include stressors from warmer water, increased ocean acidity, and bycatch mortality caused by other gear types working in the crab habitat area.

“Hopefully, we will learn more of the cause and possible remedies, and how to better manage the fishery in a changing climate. Until then, the people dependent on the fisheries are in a disastrous situation”, she said. “I believe this robust emergency appropriation would allow boat owners, crew members, processors, service businesses and the communities that are so dependent on the fleet to make their debt payments, remain viable and return to work when crab stocks recover”, she concluded.

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