Nearly $12 million is the latest infusion of funds to help Alaska fisheries disaster relief • Alaska Beacon

The federal government is sending nearly $12 million to Alaska to combat disasters in the salmon fisheries on the Kuskokwim River and Upper Cook Inlet, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced Friday.

The aid funds are for disasters declared in connection with the 2022 Kuskokwim River chum salmon outage and the 2021-2022 sockeye salmon outage that affected gillnet fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet. Aid for the Kuskokwim River disaster totaled $331,920, while aid for the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon disaster totaled nearly $11.5 million, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is under the Department of Commerce.

Alaska is not the only state affected by a weak salmon population. Along with the aid announced on Friday for victims of the salmon disaster in Alaska, the Department of Commerce announced403,978 to support the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's 2021 chum salmon and coho salmon fishery in Puget Sound, Washington State.

“Each year we see how climate change continues to have severe impacts on the fisheries and ecosystems that are vital to our economy, and the Department of Commerce is working to mitigate those impacts,” Raimondo said in a NOAA statement. “These funds will help support the recovery of salmon fisheries in communities across Alaska and Puget Sound by supporting fishery restoration efforts, minimizing the risk of future disasters, and helping to build back stronger.”

The state government will be responsible for distributing federal aid, NOAA said.

The 2022 Kuskokwim River chum salmon disaster and the 2021-2022 Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon disaster are among several stock and economic downturns in Alaska in recent years that have been declared by the Department of Commerce and, in turn, addressed with federal financial support.

Last year, the department provided $216 million in assistance for several disasters declared for the crab and salmon fisheries from 2020 through early 2023. The majority of that was earmarked to repair the economic damage from the failed Bering Sea crab fishery. Stock declines led to two consecutive closures of the Bristol Bay king crab fishery in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons and the first closure of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery in 2022.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Commerce has allocated $131.8 million in 2022 for salmon, crab and cod disasters between 2018 and 2022.

Still pending are decisions by the Department of Commerce on how much relief funding to allocate for other recently declared fishing disasters in Alaska. The pending decisions concern the continued closure of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery for the 2023-2024 season, as well as the declared disasters for the 2022 Chignik salmon fishery and last year's Upper Cook Inlet gillnet sockeye salmon fishery.

The Bristol Bay king crab catch was resumed late last year, although the snow crab catch has still not been reached. However, the allowable catch was very low compared to previous years. Scientists say climate change is causing long-term problems for crab populations in the Bering Sea.

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Anna Harden

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