Nearly four years after the failure of the 2016 pink salmon run, fishermen and processors in Alaska will finally see some economic relief.

Pink salmon gather at the mouth of Starrigavan Creek in Sitka in 2014. Two years later, many of the offspring of this parent year failed to return.. (KCAW photo/Rich McClear)

Note: Laine Welch’s Alaska Fish Radio is sponsored by Ocean Beauty Seafoods and the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. Last month, bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress to speed up economic relief for the nation’s fisheries. The bill, called Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act (Fishery FUNDD Act), would create a 120-day timeline for the Secretary of Commerce to assess a failed fishery, and a 90-day timeline for payouts. 

Congress ok’d over $56 million in federal relief funds the following year, but the authorization sat on NOAA desks in DC for over two years.

Finally, last October salmon permit holders, who can split the biggest share at nearly $32 million, were able to apply to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. But when it was discovered that the ways in which the payouts were calculated was badly flawed, they put on the brakes. 

“When the payout first started for the fishermen there was a big snafu because a lot of the crew was under reported by the skippers. So Pacific States said that until everything gets squared away, no one is going to get any checks,” said State House Representative Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who has been watchdogging the pink salmon payouts since the beginning.

She credits the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game for working out a better solution and says some checks should be in hand by mid-February.

“With the help of the Commissioner Vincent-Lang and Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker we were in touch with Pacific States,” she said, “and they agreed to send out the checks to those individuals who there were no questions about, and they are going to send out letters to individuals they have questions about to give them an opportunity to immediately reply rather than wait till the appeal period.”

Salmon processors will split nearly $18 million in relief funds.

“So yes, checks are going out and I know processors have gotten their checks and they are trying to figure out how to pay their employees and what employees qualifies,” said Stutes. “So it’s finally moving after, what, three and a half years.”

$2.4 million in disaster funds is earmarked to municipalities affected by the pink crash and nearly $4 million goes to pink salmon research.

Of that, $450,000 goes to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project. The Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey will get $680,000 to help with pink salmon forecasting. And $2.5 million will go to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast.

Stutes advises that anyone wanting to appeal their shares of the payouts should make it snappy.

“The only advice I have to those who are very unhappy and plan to appeal, make sure you have your appeal in and hopefully already have it in, because there is a finite amount of money for those appeals,” she said.