Fisheries Disaster Relief Bill To Be Heard In Senate

Shaylon Cochran

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     The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a $60 billion federal disaster relief bill next week that, if passed, would provide economic relief to commercial fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula.

     The fate of the disaster relief request made by Governor Sean Parnell back in August rests in the decision to pass a $60 billion disaster aid bill that will cover everything from Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on the east coast to mapping and charting marine debris in the Arctic.  

     Of that amount, $150 million is dedicated to fisheries disasters in Alaska, states along the Gulf Coast and New England.  Just how much of that goes to Alaska fishermen will be decided after bill is passed,which U.S. Senator Mark Begich says is likely given the bill’s bipartisan support.

     In November, Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell told the Alaska congressional delegation that commercial losses due to fisheries closures that came as a result of terrible king salmon runs totaled nearly seventeen million dollars.  Whatever money is approved and finally makes its way to Alaska, will be divvied up by NOAA.  

     During a meeting about the disaster in July, Governor Parnell’s advisor for Fisheries, Oceans and Arctic policy Stefanie Moreland explained how that process works.

     “NOAA will be guided by whatever the appropriations language is, that says how the funds may be used,” Moreland said.  ”I expect the state to work closely with the delegation and with NOAA to help inform the distribution of these as guided by the appropriations language and the authority that provides for use of these funds,” she said.

     Though the overall bill has bipartisan support, there’s no way to tell exactly how much of the aid will find its way to the Kenai Peninsula.

     “What will happen is let’s say the state has a (hypothetical) $10 million request. but the money can only suffice for $5 million, then they’ll sit down and figure out what are the highest priorities with the community.  That’s why it’s hard to say what items would be and would not be (included),” Begich said.

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