State Revises Loss Numbers For Commercial Fishermen

Shaylon Cochran

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     Congress has just a few weeks to act on the request for federal disaster aid to local fishermen affected by this year’s historically low run of king salmon.  The Alaska congressional delegation Tuesday received some updated information that paints a more detailed picture of just what those effects were.

     The Alaska Department of Commerce has revised its initial estimate of the economic impact of closed commercial fisheries this summer as a result of poor king salmon returns to Cook Inlet and elsewhere in the state.

     The Associated Press reports that Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell told the Alaska congressional delegation in a letter that the department estimates a loss of $16.8 million in direct revenue to commercial fisheries.

     In August, Governor Sean Parnell petitioned the federal government for a disaster declaration based on the economic effects of those poor runs, which was estimated at the time to be $10 million.  The declaration made commercial fishermen eligible for federal disaster aid.

     In September, Bell, along with Fish and Game officials and representatives from the Parnell administration visited the Kenai Peninsula to hear concerns from affected user groups as data was being gathered about the scope of the problem.  Bell said they were using a variety of sources to gain a better understanding of the situation.

     Bell said the figure presented to Alaska’s two senators and lone representative reflects only a portion of the financial loss to Alaskans, as it does not factor in lost wages by crew members who were unable to fish or the support businesses that rely on commercial fishing.

     It will be up to a lame duck Congress to appropriate any relief funding.  Federal law calls for a comparison of commercial fishery revenues in the year of the disaster to revenues of the five previous years.  For Upper Cook Inlet setnetters, the five year average was $10.9 million.  In 2012, as a result of closed fisheries, that number dropped 91 percent to $1.1 million.

     No harvest estimates were available for subsistence fishing, but the state estimated a loss of  29,630 angler days for guided and unguided sport fishing, which would have totaled $17.7 million in direct and indirect spending.

     The reason for poor king salmon returns remains unknown but researchers suspect ocean factors. State officials last month organized a symposium to identify gaps in a king salmon research plan and called for more data to be collected.  The first meeting of an Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, established by the state Board of Fish, will be held in Kenai this Friday.

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