Federal relief asked for pink salmon disaster

Stutes: weak run impacts whole fisheries communities

Alaska officials are seeking federal disaster relief for the 2016 pink salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik and Lower Cook Inlet.

The formal request to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker by Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott notes that the impact of the dismal commercial pink salmon run is being felt by harvesters, fish processors and those who sell fuel, tackle, supplies, groceries and lodging to those engaged in commercial fisheries.

The impact is severe enough to warrant this request for fishery disaster declarations for these areas, and the Alaska Departments of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, and Fish and Game have been directed to provide the Commerce Department with any additional information needed to make a determination, they said.

While those impacted may not see any immediate relief, there is hope, said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who had urged the state to apply for federal aid.

“It is important that people understand it wasn’t just a bad season and that it’s not just the fishermen who were affected,” she said. “This is a disaster. It has huge impacts on communities, whether from no raw fish tax to processing workers, to every business in those communities.”

While it may take a while to see any monetary comeback through federal disaster relief, there is hope, she said.

As of Sept. 12, the 2016 Prince William Sound pink salmon fishery’s combined natural and hatchery pink salmon harvest is some 12.1 million fish, which is 46.5 percent of the lower bound of the forecast range estimate of 26 million fish, and 30.5 percent of the five year average harvest for even-year pink salmon, they said. Two out of three Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. hatcheries are experiencing record low commercial harvests, they said.

The preliminary value of the 2016 Prince William Sound combined natural and hatchery pink salmon harvest is about $6.6 million, compared with a five-year average value of $43.87 million, they said.

Walker and Mallott said majority of the Kodiak management area remained closed to fishing for 70 percent of the pink salmon run, with districts across the entire area experiencing very poor escapement results. The Kitoi Hatchery pink salmon return is having the lowest survival rate on record.

As of Sept. 12, the 2016 harvest for the Kodiak area was some 3.2 million pink salmon, or 28 percent of the lower bound of the preseason forecast of 11.2 million fish. That harvest is currently only 20 percent of the five-year average harvest for even-year pink salmon. The preliminary value of the 2016 catch for the Kodiak area is $2.21 million, compared with the five-year average value of $14.64 million.

As of Sept. 12 the 2016 pink salmon commercial harvest for the Chignik area was some 140,000 fish, or 19 percent of the five-year average harvest for even-year pink salmon in that area.

The preliminary value of the Chignik pink salmon harvest is $110,000, compared with the five-year average of $740,000. There were no directed pink salmon fisheries for the Chignik area in 2016. Humpies taken were during fisheries directed at sockeyes.

In Lower Cook Inlet, this year’s pink salmon commercial harvest was about 97,000 fish, or 13 percent of the 750,000 humpies forecast and 17 percent of the five-year average harvest of even-year pinks.
The preliminary value of the 2016 Lower Cook Inlet pink salmon harvest was set at $78,000, compared with the five-year average value of $501,000, they said.