Seawatch: Fisheries asking for disaster relief

Seawatch: Fisheries asking for disaster relief

Five legislators ask Dunleavy for disaster declaration

Several fisheries around the state are asking for disaster relief from the state and federal government due to low returns, low prices due to the pandemic, and alleged mismanagement.

Seafood processors are also struggling.

Southeast Alaska is asking for disaster funds due to low coho returns and low prices on the heels of a disaster declaration in 2016 due to a crash in pink salmon numbers.

Five legislators from Southeast sent a letter to Gov. Mike Dunleavy asking for a disaster declaration for the coho salmon run, according to the Sitka Sentinel.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial troll management biologist Grant Hagerman told the Sentinel that the coho troll fishery this summer was historically bad.

“Cohos stand out significantly, in that it’s one of the lower harvest years that we’ve had… It has been a down year for the trollers for most of the year — the coho fishery is their bread and butter,” Hagerman said in the article. He cited poor fish returns and low catch rates.

Local coho catch this summer was 23% lower than last year and fell by 45% from the five-year average, he said.

“It’s huge — this catch is one of the lowest on record for coho,” Hagerman said. The year 1988 “was the lowest on record for coho, so this is the second lowest, I think.”

Prices for Southeast troll-caught Chinook also varied widely this year, from a high of $12 per pound last winter, pre-pandemic, to a low of $5.50 per pound this spring.

Chignik, previously one of the most lucrative salmon fisheries in the state, had its third year of near zero commercial salmon fishing except for 128 salmon caught in 2018, along with a continued closure of the cod fishery due to a crash of that biomass.

The Chignik cod and salmon fisheries were declared a disaster in 2018, which led to access to $65 million in federal disaster relief funds for both cod and salmon.

Upper Cook Inlet fishermen also had a disastrous year.

According to ADF&G numbers the average sockeye catch in 2020 was less than 700 fish per boat with a gross ex-vessel value of $4,400 per boat from all salmon species.

United Cook Inlet Drift Association asserts that the reason is mismanagement.

In a letter to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which is supposed to be formulating a fishery management plan after a successful lawsuit to require federal oversight of the fishery, UCIDA states, “It did not need to be such a disaster. Poor management by the State of Alaska again allowed wasteful over-escapement of sockeye salmon into the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. The over-escapement was measured at 1.1 million fish, an amount nearly double the entire commercial catch of 697,000 sockeye. Equally troubling is while commercial salmon fishers sat idle this summer, 10 to 20 million pink salmon went unharvested in Cook Inlet and this wasted resource is now rotting in our rivers and streams. The commercial catch of pink salmon was only 343,000 fish. This is, once again, a fishery disaster caused by State of Alaska salmon management policies and practices that do not meet the requirements of the (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the National Standards.”

In a letter to members, UCIDA pointed out that a disaster request does not have to be made by the Governor; an “elected or duly appointed representative of an affected fishing community” can also make the request.

UCIDA has sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross requesting he declare an economic disaster for the Upper Cook Inlet drift gillnet salmon fishery and provide a supporting recovery plan.

They made the same request to Dunleavy, but have scant hope he will comply as it was his administration that managed the fishery in such a way as to cause the disaster.

Processors are also facing financial hardships, largely as a result of the extra costs related to staffing challenges during the pandemic.

Julianne Curry, public affairs manager for OBI Seafoods, told Alaska Public Media, “It was a huge lift to get all employees tested, transported, quarantined, and fully integrated into each of our plants all while observing a closed campus and all COVID-related protocols and doing it all with very little time to plan and prepare for the summer salmon season.”

Garrett Everidge, an economist at the McDowell Group, told APM that processors have spent $50 million, so far.

“So $50 million is kind of a start and it’s just expected to increase,” he said.

Nicole Kimball, the vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association in Anchorage, which represents several processors that operate in Bristol Bay —Trident, Peter Pan, and Alaska General Seafoods, pointed out the challenges.

“The initial quarantines for thousands of workers. So that can include hotel and food and daily medical screening,” she explained. “It’s the testing that came online, often multiple times for each worker. It’s hiring medical companies to provide daily screening and be on site for each plant. It’s PPE and sanitation supplies. All of those things. Security, which in Bristol Bay people were really adamant about needing to ensure if you were going to have a closed campus it really was a closed campus.”

Kimball said all those things were expensive over and above the normal cost of operating. And the $50 million price tag for 2020 is in line with what she’s heard from companies around the state.

“I think some companies, individual companies, spent more than $10 million alone,” she said.

Cristy Fry can be reached at

More in News

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

Thunder Mountain High School on April 18.  Earlier this fall, vandalism including stolen soap dispensers and toilets clogged with foreign objects such as paper towel rolls were a problem at schools nationwide and in Juneau. But, principals say the local situation is improving. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
After brief surge, vandalism subsiding at local high schools

Principals say internet trends, stress likely behind incidents.

In this Jan. 8, 2020, photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Alaska man faces federal charges after authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill Murkowski, according to court documents unsealed Wed., Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,File)
Delta Junction man faces charges over threatening Murkowski’s life

Authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill the senator.

Donna Aderhold recites the Homer City Council oath of office and is sworn in for duty at the city council meeting on Oct. 11. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
New council members sworn into duty Monday

Newly-elected Homer City Council members Shelly Erickson and Jason Davis and re-elected… Continue reading

Runners participate in boys varsity race at the Ted McKenney XC Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. The trails recently reported incidents of vandalism and theft. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Vandalism and theft reported at Tsalteshi Trails

One trail user reported stolen skis recently and multiple signs have been defaced.

At left Bonita Banks, RN, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) nurse at Homer Medical Center, and at right, Annie Garay, RN, Community Health Educator, pose for a photo at South Peninsula Hospital on Sept. 27, 2021, at Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)
New hospital community health educator starts

Garay, a Homer raised nurse, came home to ride out COVID-19, wound up doing pandemic nursing.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Montessori school goes to universal indoor masking

As of Tuesday, eight KPBSD schools were operating with universal indoor masking for staff and students.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Crabbers look at cuts to quotas

Tanner, opilio crab quotas cut on top of cancellation of fall king crab fishery.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Judge sides with psychiatrists who alleged wrongful firing

Two psychiatrists said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

Most Read