Gulf to receive fishery disaster recovery funds, unclear when

Pinks in Sitka. (Photo by USDA Forest Service Alaska Region / Flickr)

The president signed a bill this month that directs recovery funds to fisheries disasters on the West Coast, including in Alaska, but it’s still unclear how the limited funds will be distributed.

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In a letter to the U.S. Senate in January, senators wrote that they saw a $150 million need in Alaska following the 2016 pink salmon season disaster in the Gulf. They also identified a $140 million need for the fisheries disasters in California and $117 million for those in Washington State.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski was among those to sign the letter and said the Bipartisan Budget Act grants the three states a lot less than that requested amount.

“There’s only $200 million that has been identified for all nine of these disasters, so there’s going to have to be a level of prioritization,” Murkowski said. “There’s going to have to be some critical evaluation of what the criteria will be.”

So far, that process is murky.

Barbara Blake, a fisheries staffer and senior advisor to the governor and lieutenant governor, says the state congressional delegation will work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine where the funds will be placed.

While eight other fisheries disasters are vying for the funds, Blake says the governor’s office is hopeful about Alaska’s claim.

“As we were told, our data is very good in comparison to others who didn’t have as comprehensive data when they submitted their numbers in relation to their disaster declarations,” Blake said.

Kodiak is one of the areas in the state waiting for funds.

Representative Louise Stutes says they had hoped for more money, but it’s something.

“No matter how little or how much, every bit makes a difference to a fisherman,” Stutes said.

So far, state leaders are not sure about a timeline for the distribution of the funds.