Bristol Bay Borough working with processors ahead of 2020 salmon fish season amid COVID-19 concerns

Mar 27, 2020

In a special meeting by the Bristol Bay Borough, assembly members declared a local emergency response to recieve funding from state and federal government. Community members phoned in to share thoughts about the upcoming salmon fish season.

Credit Bristol Bay Borough

 

The Bristol Bay Borough declared an emergency response to the coronavirus at a teleconference meeting Tuesday. The focal point of the meeting was preparations and precautions ahead of the 2020 salmon season.

Declaring an emergency response means the borough is now eligible to receive financial assistance at the state and federal levels -- The borough assembly also granted Manager Gregg Brelsford emergency powers.

The Naknek Native Village Council will be coordinating with governing bodies to protect tribal members and Elders. The council is going to participate in weekly teleconferences with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Human Health Services Department and FEMA.

Most of the meeting was spent addressing the upcoming salmon season. Community members dialed in to voice some of their concerns if there is an outbreak in the community.

“What are we going to do, to protect ourselves," Michael Gottschalk said. "I respect the industry, but I am not willing to bet my life for one pound of salmon.”

“Think about the thousands and thousands of people that come through the airport at the same time that fishermen and processors and are headed out to Katmai," Jennifer Aspelund said. "That exposure in that small area, you are looking at a huge disaster.”

“I’m just concerned about outside fishermen spreading the disease to our elders," Ralph Angansan said. "I think you guys should shut it down. When people start dying, if they do; just something to think about alright thank you.”

Mayor Dan O'Hara acknowledged thos concerns, “it’s keeping us awake at night, thank you for your comments."

Earlier this week, borough officials spoke with processors and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, the regional seafood association. Assembly member Eddie Clark was impressed with how processors are handling the situation.

“The one processor that stuck out to me was Silver Bay," Clark said. "They said that they will come in, be here a short while, stay in the water and not come to shore even. They will do whatever the local government wants them to do.”

Other processors suggested chartering planes from Anchorage to King Salmon and using private busses to get their employees to their campuses for a 14-day quarantine. 

Alaska General Seafoods has an old bunkhouse available for quarantine, and the borough is also considering the King Salmon hangar and mall. The assembly is working with the Local Emergency Planning Committee to authorize those locations.

Mary Swain, part of a fishing task force for the east side of Bristol Bay, said BBRSDA is sending letters to their fishermen detailing the association’s expectations for the upcoming season. The processors are going to work together to reach out to community members.

“They’re going to develop a letter going out to all community members saying these are all the things we are going to do," Swain said. "They’re going to come up with a combined list of what they’re doing collectively. Each of them will sign on to say yes, we’re doing this too. This is what you can expect from us, please let us know if you have more questions of us.”

The borough expects to receive those letters next week. But some are worried about the rest of the fishermen coming to town. The state required all out-of-state workers operating between now and May 1 to submit plans to the governor Wednesday. Assembly member Russel Phelps wants to see the borough enact a plan that would hold fishermen accountable at the local level.

“I think the borough needs to require the fishermen to get something out to the permit holders," Phelps said. "Have the permit holders write something up and give it to the borough, so the borough can approve them coming in with a plan.”

Phelps also wants to address retailers like Seamar, LFS and other maintenance workers coming into town. The assembly agreed to compile more information and to address this concern at the next meeting in April.

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