Fishing industry weighs on state’s $ 50 million pandemic relief plan

Three fishing boats are on the grid in the southern port of Petersburg for cleaning and maintenance on Thursday, May 17, 2018 (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

Statewide commercial fishing industry group calls on the Dunleavy administration to justify its proposal on how to distribute $ 50 million in federal pandemic relief for the fishing industry Alaska fishing.

Federal guidelines recommend allocating more than half of CARES law funds to seafood processors and only 5% to charter fleets and lodges.

But a draft released this month by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends that the allocation be evenly distributed among sectors, which would increase the jackpot for fishing guides and lodges by more than $ 13 million.

United Alaskan Fishermen, which represents the commercial fleet and processors, asked the agency to explain its logic for increasing the allocation of the charter fleet to the detriment of other sectors.

UFA President Matt Alward signed a three page letter at the commissioner’s office.

We were asking the ministry if it could just provide data, economic data or economic damage to the various sectors that justify the split, ”Alward told CoastAlaska Thursday.

UFA also pointed out that while commercial fishermen are required to be residents of Alaska, no such requirement is proposed for charter guides to qualify for relief.

The formula also requires applicants to prove that they have lost at least 35% of income over a certain period. This could be difficult for some charter guides given that bookings were high at the start of the pandemic, to be reimbursed at a much later date, says Jim Martin of the Alaska Charter Association.

There are a few issues, but overall I think it’s a good plan, ”Martin said Thursday.

The Homer-based group and the Southeast Alaska Guide Organization have written letters generally praising the state’s methodology.

“It was really devastating not to have people coming to Alaska to fish,” Martin added.

Some $ 1.5 million would be earmarked for subsistence users.

Other letters Recommended adjusting the eligibility conditions to comply with federal livelihood criteria to ensure relief flows to rural households that rely more heavily on subsistence fishing as a source of food.

Otherwise, relief could be too dispersed to help those in need, according to the letters.

The processing industry says the federal requirement to document significant losses is inconsistent with the facts on the ground. That’s because companies have only operated this season by spending tens of millions of dollars on special housing, coronavirus tests, charter flights for workers and other guarantees, says Nicole Kimball, vice -President of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association based in Anchorage.

“What I have heard from processors,” she said, is that they are asking for “reimbursement for some of these direct COVID-19 mitigation costs.”

She cited a recent study that found seafood processors spent over $ 50 million on COVID-19 mitigation alone.

The seafood companies have paid for this out of pocket, she said, “to ensure that we can continue to have commercial fisheries. We could protect the transformative workforce and we could protect the communities, primarily the remote communities in which we operate. “

The state will submit its final plan to federal authorities after reviewing comments received. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will be responsible for reviewing applications and ultimately reducing controls.

Editor’s Note: A quote from Nicole Kimball has been paraphrased to clarify meaning.

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