UPDATE: Thursday, October 27, 2016
Governor Bill Walker decided Wednesday to include Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon into a request for a federal disaster declaration.
The Walker administration is already seeking disaster declarations for commercial pink salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik and the Lower Cook Inlet. Like Southeast, they all fell below their pink harvest forecasts for this year as well as five year averages.
In Southeast, the catch this year was about 18 million pinks, well below the 34 million forecast.
Walker decided to tack on Southeast to the list after Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Ketchikan Representative Dan Ortiz (Ortez) requested it. In a letter to the lawmakers, the Governor stated that the Southeast pink salmon fisheries suffered a 36.1 percent loss of revenue this year compared to the recent five year average. It takes a 35 to 80 percent loss in order for the National Marine Fisheries Service to consider disaster relief.
A disaster declaration could lead to federal funding or other aid for people involved in the fisheries.
In September, the governor took other action, formally asking the Division of Economic Development to seek waivers for loan payments for vessel owners affected by low pink salmon returns. Governor Walker sent the memo on September 19, with the support of Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman. The governor wrote, “We understand that each fishery loan is unique and each borrower has different criteria which must be examined when deciding whether or not it is appropriate to waive a loan payment.”
ORIGINAL Report: Wednesday, October 26, 2016
A pair of Southeast legislators is asking the governor to include Southeast fishermen in Alaska’s request for federal disaster relief under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Sitka representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Ketchikan representative Dan Ortiz made the appeal in a letter to Governor Bill Walker on October 21, on behalf of Southeast fishermen affected by this season’s weak pink salmon return.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, fishermen are eligible for automatic disaster relief if the value of a fishery drops more than 80-percent below its five-year average.
Staffers for Kreiss-Tomkins and Ortiz calculated this season’s loss at 55-percent, which qualifies the Southeast pink salmon fishery for “further evaluation” for disaster relief.
Governor Walker in September applied for disaster relief for the pink salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Lower Cook Inlet, and in Chignik.
In Southeast, pink salmon are targeted primarily by seiners. In their letter, Kreiss-Tomkins and Ortiz argue that Southeast fishing families are facing huge losses through no fault of their own, and there is no reason to bar them from the same support requested for Southcentral fishermen.
Nevertheless, Southeast fishermen did fare somewhat better than their counterparts elsewhere, earning nearly $14 million for this year’s harvest — down from an average of $29 million. In contrast, Prince William Sound fisherman landed pinks worth only $7 million, down from an average of $44 million.
This is not the first time Alaska has appealed for federal disaster assistance under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Over the last two years, salmon fishermen on the Yukon and Lower Kuskokwim rivers have received a total of nearly $21 million after disastrous king returns kept them on shore most of the 2012 season.