State releases plan for $50m in fishing sector COVID-19 relief

A fishing boat in Sitka’s harbor on Jan. 18, 2018. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

The state has released its plan to divvy up $50 million in federal pandemic payments to Alaska’s fishing industry workers hard hit by COVID-19.

Federal guidance suggested that the state should set aside more than half of the CARES Act funding for processors, about a third for commercial fishermen and 5 percent for sportfishing guides and lodges.

But in a draft released on Oct. 5, the Department of Fish and Game proposes an even split between charter guides, the commercial fleet and seafood processors at 32%.

The state also proposes to set aside small pots of cash for subsistence and aquaculture — at 3% and 1% respectively — for two groups that weren’t included in the federal guidance at all.

The boosts for charter guides, subsistence fishermen and aquaculture have come largely at the expense of seafood processors. Processors command greater revenue but have largely remained operating due to exemptions to travel restrictions for essential workforce. Plants have reported spending millions of dollars trying to keep their facilities free of the coronavirus.

In a statement, Fish and Game said all sectors have been impacted by the pandemic “whether it be reduced wholesale prices and reduction in demand due to economic shut down or sharp declines in tourism due to travel restrictions.”

Applicants for relief would need to document significant losses over the course of the pandemic compared to previous years.

Four coastal lawmakers — including Reps. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) — wrote to Gov. Mike Dunleavy two weeks ago urging the state “reimburse processors for COVID-19 expenses to the fullest possible extent through available CARES funding.”

Industry groups representing processors and sportfishing guides said they were still studying the plan and would reserve comment until a later date.

The agency is accepting written comments on its plan until Oct. 19.

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