Sen. Murkowski pushes for an additional $1 billion in federal fisheries relief funds

The Naknek inriver opener. July 18, 2020. (Sage Smiley/KDLG)


Alaska’s fishing industry was allocated $50 million in CARES Act funding in early May to ease financial losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial and sport fishing businesses that incur more than 35% in losses will be eligible for aid. NOAA Fisheries and The Pacific Marine Fishery Commission will evaluate each entity’s spending plan. According to NOAA, submissions and approvals will “occur on a rolling basis.”

Get the latest coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska

Additional money could be on the way for the fishing industry. Senator Lisa Murkowski said that she is working to add more fisheries funding in the next round of pandemic relief legislation.

“As we think about the impact to our fisheries, $50 million is not going to be sufficient to address the need,” she said. “I have been working with colleagues to urge us in this next round of relief to include $1 billion in fishery assistance funds.”

Murkowski also wants to change language in the second rollout of funding to help individual fishermen access the Paycheck Protection Program. She says the original PPP did not accommodate fishing wages and crew payroll expenses.

RELATED: 86 crew members on American Seafoods trawler test positive for COVID-19

“The PPP really didn’t account for the fact that so many of our businesses in Alaska are seasonal,” she said. “When you think about the fisheries in Bristol Bay that’s certainly a seasonal business. It’s the very definition of it. And so we’ve been successful in changing the definition, but now we’re working with treasury to allow for when those funds need to be paid out.”

The House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act May 12. The bill now moves on to the Senate. Murkowski hopes they can negotiate and address some of the shortcomings from the CARES Act.

“We moved this legislation through very, very quickly. In the matter of a couple weeks, and a couple trillion dollars in spending,” she said. “It is not unusual that we didn’t get the legislation right the first time. It’s been frustrating, I know, for many, but we remain pretty vigilant in trying to address the areas where we did not meet the mark, where we underestimated or we just — we built it wrong.”

Alaska and Washington both received most of the $300 million made available nationwide to the fishing industry. Halibut and salmon fishing are currently underway around the state, and Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery kicks off this month.

Contact the author at tyler@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.