Feds approve $50M in pandemic relief for Alaska’s fishing sector

Fishing boats wait for an opener in Chignik’s city harbor in 2019. (Photo by Alex Hager / KDLG)

Alaska’s plan to pay out nearly $50 million to the fishing industry for pandemic relief has been approved by the federal government. That’s after two major revisions and more than 200 public comments from every industry sector.

It really was a balance between getting the funds out quickly and developing a spending plan with the input of affected fishery participants,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker told CoastAlaska.

Final details were released on Thursday. Commercial applicants will need to show that the COVID-19 pandemic caused them at least a 35% loss in revenue last year. Applications will be accepted during a two-month window that opens March 1. Payments could come as early as June.

Baker says a major change to the final plan now excludes commercial permit holders who live in other Pacific states like Washington and Oregon.

Non-Alaska resident commercial harvesters who fish up here but live in a state that received a CARES Act allocation must apply to their state of residence,” she said. “They’re not eligible to apply to the state of Alaska for a funds.”

Non-resident charter guides are eligible if they have an Alaska business license.

The plan notes that the Department of Fish and Game saw a 54% reduction in non-resident sport fishing license sales last season compared to 2019 — but that this was “only one indication of impacts to the charter sector.”

The money comes from the original CARES Act that Congress passed last year. More than $17.2 million will go to commercial fishermen, about $13.3 million to sport and charter guides and around $493,000 to Alaska’s aquaculture businesses.

Another $2.4 million is reserved for rural households that had pandemic-related problems accessing subsistence fisheries, with extra available for households below the federal poverty line.

The allocation plan was developed by the state, but it’s being administered by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. NOAA Fisheries approved the plan this week.

Earlier drafts had set aside more money for the charter sector and less money for processors, and it disqualified out-of-state commercial fishermen. But hundreds of comments and push back from industry led to several revisions.

The money comes from $300 million set aside for the nationwide fishing industry announced last May. A little more than 1 percent of Alaska’s share — about $628,000 — will be paid to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to administer the program.

Applications will be accepted online from March 1 to April 30. More information on how to apply is available by calling 1-888-517-7262. Or emailing AKCares@psmfc.org.

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