CARES Act funds for fisheries relief mailed

Commercial harvesters, sport charters, processors and subsistence users will share $50M in funds

Attention commercial harvesters: your fisheries relief checks are in the mail.

Just be patient.

That’s the advice of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, which advises that round one of Alaska’s pandemic relief funds for commercial fishermen were mailed the week of Dec. 13, but due to the holiday influx of mail and remote location of many relief check recipients, it may take some time for those checks to reach them.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, hailed disbursement of $50 million in fisheries relief for Alaskans, including money for subsistence harvesters, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Alaska’s fisheries and seafood sector are a critical driver of our state’s economy, employing more than 58,000 people and producing billions of dollars in economic output in our state each year,” she said.

While recognizing that the time between allocation and distribution has been frustrating and long, “I’m encouraged to know that those checks are officially hitting the mailboxes of hardworking Alaskans,” she said.

Alaska’s share of the relief funds included approximately $17.3 million to commercial harvesters, $15.8 million to seafood processors, $13.3 million to sport fishing charters, $2.5 million for subsistence harvesters and $494,000 to the aquaculture sector, said Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Everyone who applied for the COVID-19 relief funds to help reimburse fisheries business expenses and losses is being asked to allow minimum of three to four weeks before inquiring at PSMFC about the status of their check. PSMFC said their staff would begin responding to these inquiries the week of Jan. 17. PSMFC plans to begin sending letters the week of Jan. 27 to all those who were disqualified or ineligible to apply for relief funds.

Given that nearly one third of some 7,000 applications receive from Alaska had errors and/or omissions it has taken longer than anticipated to process and amend applications, the federal agency said. Additionally, due to recent spend plan amendments made by ADF&G a “do not exceed” payment amount was assigned regardless of the number of shares an applicant may be eligible for within the commercial harvester sector, as well as for sport fishing charters and seafood processing sectors.

That “do not exceed” payment amount does not apply to the subsistence fishing sector.

Allocations per share to each sector are $3,208 for commercial harvesters, $10,895.15 for sport fishing charters, $101,972.62 for seafood processors and $380.68 for subsistence users.

PSMFC officials said the share price was calculated using the total number of eligible shares within a sector divided by the total amount of available funding.

The global COVID-19 virus spread to Alaska in the early spring of 2020 and by May was shutting down the economy nationwide. Congress approved a new authority through the CARES Act, of which Alaska received $50 million of the $300 million total allocation. The state then worked with the PSMFC and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a spend plan for the first and second round of funding.

Murkowski said that the commission is currently drafting applications for round two, which are anticipated to be available in mid to late January. In order to apply for round two fund applicants must know their round one relief amounts. Additional guidance will be available once applications have been finalized and approved by ADF&G staff, she said.