Alaska seeks disaster relief in wake of poor pink salmon run

Published on
September 28, 2016

It was not quite a hurricane, but Alaskas abysmal pink salmon run this year did enough damage that the states governor, Bill Walker, thinks it should be declared a disaster, a move that would free up federal funds for struggling fishermen.

Walker sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker last week asking for an expedited review of the Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik management areas after paltry humpy catches in all four regions.

“It’s at least the worst it’s been since 1971, and that was been backed by numbers from the Department (of Fish and Game) I saw yesterday,”said Representative Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who led the charge for Walker to take action on the disaster declaration.

Walker’s letter to Pritzker reported that as of 12 September, seiners in the Prince William Sound fishery had only caught 12.1 million pinks despite a preseason prediction of 26 million, with record lows on hatchery fish for two of the three hatcheries in the area. That adds up to just USD 6.6 million (EUR 5.9 million) in natural and hatchery fish, a pittance next to the five-year average of USD 43.9 million (EUR 39.1 million).

Stutes said the low catch numbers will spell disaster for the local economy.

“It affects the workers, [then] the municipalities because they don’t get their raw fish tax. Businesses [struggle] because the workers aren’t spending money,”she said.

In the Kodiak Management Area, the preliminary value on pinks was around USD 12.4 million (EUR 11.1 million) lower than the five-year average, according to figures cited in Walker’s letter. A lack of escapement meant the Kodiak fisheries were open just 30 percent of the pink salmon run, the report added.

Stutes, the chair of Alaska’s House Fisheries Special Committee, has already opened up channels for fisherman to defer payments on state loans, and now she hopes federal grants will come in to help people who depend on the pink salmon run to pull through until next season.

If Walker’s request gains approval from the Commerce Department, it will then need to be voted on by the U.S. Congress.

“This is not an overnight fix. What it does is tells people we know there’s a problem and we’re trying to do something about it,”Stutes said.

Runs of pink salmon traditionally Alaska’s highest volume, lowest-priced salmon species tend to be low on even years, but this season’s run was crippling. Preliminary numbers from Alaska Fish and Game put the total catch pink catch at 36 million, less than half of the projected 90 million fish.

Contributing Editor reporting from Seattle, USA

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