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By the Bay: April 10, 2020

Sage Smiley/KDLG

Four communities have asked the governor to consider closing Bristol Bay's commercial fishery. Processors have laid out plans aimed at keeping the fishery safe. And RavnAir has temporarily halted all operations. 

Update: The South Naknek Village Council has also sent a letter to the governor requesting that he consider closing the fishery. Read that story here.

Listen to the full show here:

Three communities -- Dillingham, the Naknek Native Village Council, and the King Salmon Tribe --  have written letters to Governor Mike Dunleavy urging the governor to put extreme protective measures in place at once or consider closing Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery.

The season brings with it an influx of thousands of fishermen and processor workers into small communities around the region.


The Curyung Tribal Council and the City of Dillingham said in their letter to the governor that there was no way to limit their communities’ exposure to the virus, even with the current requirement for processors to submit quarantine plans for their workers. 

“There is no way to prevent a potential mass disease situation when a few hundred people are in close proximity with each other,” they write.

Thomas Tilden is the first chief of the Curyung Tribal Council. He said that if the state allows the fishery to go forward, a comprehensive and effective plan must be in place to protect residents -- something that he hasn’t seen so far. 



The state has designated fishermen as “critical infrastructure,” and required processors to submit health and safety plans to the state in order to operate. The city and tribe wrote that while they appreciate that processors have shared plans with them, they do not want to rely on corporations to ensure residents’ safety. 

Dillingham emphasized that no regional entities have the ability to limit the movements of fishery workers. Tilden said that’s already apparent. 




Two weeks ago, the Curyung Tribe declared a state of emergency and disaster for the tribal community. The city council passed a resolution Thursday restricting travel into Dillingham.

The Naknek Native Village Council released a letter Tuesday echoing Dillingham’s city and tribal councils in its request. 

“The Tribal Organizations of Naknek, King Salmon, and South Naknek, consider this pandemic to be of utmost importance. Our people, and our culture are at risk. We have worked diligently and taken extreme precautionary measures to limit exposure of COVID-19 to our communities and residents,” it writes, adding that they are prepared to take more stringent measures.

In its letter, the tribe also points out that there is no hospital in its community, and extremely limited medical resources and infrastructure, and that moving forward with the fishing season went against all guidance on how to prevent an outbreak. 

The Naknek Village Council is expected to comment on its letter today. 

“There is no way to prevent a potential mass disease situation when processors employ several thousand people, working in close proximity, living in bunk houses, confined to closed campus style operations. We must consider that a potential mass-outbreak would be disastrous.”


And the King Salmon Tribe issued a similar letter to the governor on Wednesday, saying that the Bristol Bay Borough is unequipped for a pandemic of this proportion, and calling the borough’s quarantine plan “inadequate.”

Meanwhile, the big processors gearing up to operate in Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery this summer have laid out aspects of their safety protocols that they say will allow them to participate safely in the upcoming season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to the region’s communities, they write, "We are writing to you to confirm our commitment that we are prioritizing the health and safety of the communities and tribal councils of Bristol Bay."

Curyung Tribal Council Second Chief Gayla Hoseth said that the processors’ plans don’t adequately address how they would handle a case given the lack of health care resources in the community. 


An industry task force has set guidelines for participating seafood companies and other stakeholders to use. The processors say that they will incorporate those guidelines into their individual plans.

Seven processors have posted their individual plans on the Bristol Bay Borough’s website, which range widely in their level of detail.

The companies say in their joint letter that all employees will be verbally screened before being given flight information. Workers will also be medically screened at the Anchorage or Seattle airports, and people won’t be allowed in or out of the processor campuses. Employees arriving from other locations must comply with a 14-day quarantine.

The processors also say that each company has the capacity to isolate and care for employees who develop COVID-19 symptoms. 


They note that their list of precautions is not definitive. Plans will continue to evolve as the situation changes, and through discussion with communities and tribal councils, the companies write.


In a press conference yesterday evening, Dunleavy said that the state has a team working to determine whether a fishing season could take place this year. He said that the team was working with local officials, tribal leaders, fishermen and processors.


The Bristol Bay Borough Assembly has not requested such a consideration. But it passed an ordinance this week mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone travelling into King Salmon and Naknek.

The assembly specified that people coming in must go straight to their designated quarantine location. That means no extra stops to any public facilities. Assembly member Mary Swain says the borough will assist essential workers if quarantining is an issue.


Borough Manager Gregg Brelsford said that decision will be made after they convene with the mayor, finance committee or at least two members of the assembly. Brelsford also granted the borough police department permission to enforce the quarantine and six-foot social distancing.


If someone refuses to comply, they could face a fine of up to $25,000 and a year in jail. The ordinance went into effect Wednesday (4/8) and will be enforced until midnight May 5, when the borough will re-evaluate the restriction.

The borough is also working to adopt their own version of Dillingham’s essential air travel permitting system. It requires anyone entering Dillingham to apply for a permit from the city. Once the borough completes their version, they will make an announcement.

As of Thursday evening no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the region. 



Alaska Airlines working to open up services for Dillingham and King Salmon after RavnAir shuts down


Alaska Airlines announced this week that they are ramping up flight services in Dillingham and King Salmon after RavnAir shut down all operations on Sunday.

The airline is aiming to start its seasonal flight service before its normal start date of June 1. Until then, residents in Dillingham and King Salmon will have to rely on charter airfare.

Lake and Peninsula Airlines is extending services to help the two communities out. They normally fly from Lake Clark and Iliamna to Anchorage. Part owner Heidi Wilder said they are possibly looking at two flights per week.

The airline’s largest charter carries up to nine people and costs around $5,000 to make a trip to Anchorage. That means each passenger would pay about $550. Smaller charters carry four to five people, and trips cost $2,500 to $3,000.


Credit Tyler Thompson/KDLG
Ravn PenAir in Dillingham was the only commercial air service for the the community. April 1, 2020

Two people died in two separate structure fires this week. One was in Naknek, the other in Pilot Point.

On Sunday night, the Village Public Safety Office in Pilot Point reported a fire at a residence to Alaska State Troopers, who responded along with the state fire marshal. It burned into Monday morning. Troopers report that one person died in that fire, and that the residence was a total loss.

On Monday morning the Bristol Bay Borough Police notified the State Fire Marshal’s Office of a fire at a residence in Naknek where one person died. Chief of Police John Rhyshek says the fire was a single-story ranch style home, and that the fire was a total loss. Two deputy fire marshals from Anchorage responded to assist borough police with the investigation.

No foul play is suspected in either fire at this time, though the investigations are ongoing. The remains of both people were sent to the state medical examiner in Anchorage for identification.


The Dillingham City School District delivered 2,700 meals last week and is on pace to deliver 3,000 at the end of this week. The service kicked off at the end of March after the state mandated that schools remain shut down until May 1 due to the coronavirus.

The district ordered shelf stable foods from the Foodbank of Alaska. Phil Hulett and 11 other staff members at the school are volunteering to make deliveries Monday through Friday. They start at 10:45 a.m. and follow the normal bus routes. Hullet says they average over 280 stops per day.



Each package is comprised of a breakfast item, lunch and a *snack*. If someone is missed, Hullett coordinates with volunteers to set up a delivery or arrange for pickup at the school. The service is also available for anyone 18 years or younger in the area.

Meals can also be picked up at the elementary school from 12:00 p.m. until 12:45 p.m. The service will continue until May 22 when the school year would have originally ended. 

Superintendent Jason Johson called us earlier this week to share a message of gratitude.


It is Easter this weekend, and people will be celebrating … apart. This morning I talked to Father Scott Garett of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church about what he’s planning.



Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.