Feds approve $50m pandemic relief for Alaska’s fishing sector

A charter boat with a guy standing on the bow at a beach
Tour operators from Breakaway Charters in Petersburg in 2017. The state Department of Fish and Game allocated 27% of the funding to the charter fleet and lodges. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Alaska’s plan to pay out nearly $50 million to the fishing industry for pandemic relief has been approved by the federal government. 

That’s after two major revisions and more than 200 public comments from every industry sector.

It really was a balance between getting the funds out quickly and developing a spending plan with the input of affected fishery participants,” Alaska Department of Fish & Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker said.

Final details were released Thursday. Commercial applicants will need to show the COVID-19 pandemic caused them at least a 35% loss in revenue last year. Applications will be accepted during a two-month window opening March 1. Payment could come as early as June.

Baker said a major change to the final plan now excludes commercial permit holders who live in other Pacific states, like Washington and Oregon.

Non-Alaska resident commercial harvesters who fish up here but live in a state that received a CARES Act allocation must apply to their state of residence,” she said. “They’re not eligible to apply to the state of Alaska for funds.”

Non-resident charter guides are eligible — provided they have an Alaska business license.

The plan notes the Department of Fish & Game saw a 54% reduction in non-resident sport fishing license sales last season compared to 2019.

“This dramatic reduction in license sales is only one indication of impacts to the charter sector,” the agency noted.

The money comes from the original CARES Act that Congress passed last year. More than $17.2 million will go to commercial fishermen, about $13.3 million is earmarked for sport and charter guides, and Alaska’s aquaculture businesses will receive around $493,000.

A $2.4 million pot of money is reserved for rural households who had pandemic-related problems accessing subsistence fisheries, with extra available for households below the federal poverty line.

The allocation plan was developed by the state, but it’s being administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. NOAA Fisheries approved the plan this week. 

Earlier drafts had set aside more money for the charter sector and less money for processors, and disqualified out-of-state commercial fishermen. But hundreds of comments and push back from industry led to several revisions.

The money comes from $300 million set aside for the nationwide fishing industry announced last May. A little more than 1% of Alaska’s share — about $628,000 — will be paid to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to administer the program. 

Applications will be accepted online from March 1 to April 30. More information on how to apply is available by calling 1-888-517-7262. Or emailing AKCares@psmfc.org.