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First Installment of Fish Disaster Assistance Released

National Geographic

Friday marked the release of $7.5 million in federal disaster assistance for commercial fishermen affected by the 2012 failure of the Chinook salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and Cook Inlet.  Both US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich welcomed the news and spoke in support of the decision. 

In 2012, low returns of Chinook salmon resulted in a fishery resource disaster.  That continued the pattern seen in 2010 and 2011 in the Yukon River and the 2011 failure in the Kuskokwim River.  In September of 2012, US Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank reviewed the information the State of Alaska provided and determined the commercial fisheries failed due to a fish resource disaster for the three regions. 

In 2013, Murkowski spoke on the US Senate floor comparing the disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim to hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeast just months after the end of the 2012 salmon season in Alaska.   She said the passing of a bill to assist the area hit by the storm was important and that helping those affected in Alaska was just as important.

“In my state when you have a fisheries that has declined to the extent that we have seen, the loss of the Chinook salmon on the Yukon Kuskokwim River, the Cook Inlet, this has had a dramatic impact on the state’s economy, a dramatic impact on the livelihoods of so many Alaskans. Whether they be commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, our subsistence based fisheries, our fisheries communities, those businesses that are dependent on our salmon fisheries, these were all impacted this past year.”

The first grant application was approved in August. The Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, which worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on other disaster programs, mailed out applications to permit holders in the affected areas. 

Begich, a member of the Senate Appropriations committee, tried to acquire over $20 million in assistance for Alaskans hurt by the run failure, but as of now a review is underway on the spending plans for the remaining $13 million available under the federal appropriation.  He says the assistance money is “a long time coming but should help compensate fishermen for their past financial losses suffered to ensure the long term survival of the king salmon.”

The Alaska assistance is part of the $75 million appropriated for fishery disasters nationwide.