Gov. Sean Parnell requested the federal government declare a fishery disaster for this year’s Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.
According to the governor’s Thursday letter to the Department of Commerce, an unanticipated decline in the fishery with an undetermined cause has fishermen reeling from the economic loss of fishery closures.
Local commercial and sport fishermen were severely restricted in-season when the Kenai River king salmon run was projected to be the lowest on record.
No one from the governor’s office was available late Thursday afternoon to discuss what kind of aid could potentially be provided to distressed businesses in the area, however a federal disaster declaration would not bring automatic assistance.
According to the Associated Press, a federal appropriation would be needed to provide relief to the region.
Figures cited in the letter suggest that the setnetters in the east side setnet fishery lost nearly 90 percent of their normal annual income when closed.
Paul A. Shadura II, said he didn’t think the economic loss to setnetters was accurately represented in the governor’s letter.
Shadura, setnetter and board director to the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said setnetters harvested about $20 million last year, well above the $10.9 million cited in the governor’s letter.
“$10.9 million divided among the registered permit holders comes out to about $24,000. That’s a real drop in the bucket to what we’ve spent,” Shadura said. “It’s hard to believe that the governor’s office is using that figure, it’s way low.”
The governor’s letter doesn’t cite a source for its figures and no one was available to comment on them Thursday evening. Shadura said his figures were also estimations as the exact harvest income figures were not available.
Despite the low figures, Shadura said the association would support the assistance from the state. However, he said the state should also be held responsible for the disaster instead of relying on the federal government for aid.
He said management decisions made in-season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game perpetuated the disaster.
More than 19,000 Kenai River kings are estimated to have passed the DIDSON sonar according to Fish and Game. Shadura said those numbers did not warrant the in-season closure of the setnet fishery.
“There were less kings available — at that time at least — in the counters, than later in the season so we’re really upset at the way the state managed the fisheries,” Shadura said.
During the king season, Fish and Game forecasted a low number of late-run fish entering the Kenai River. However, a push of kings entered the river after July 31, the last day of the king salmon fishing season.
Typically only about 10 to 16 percent of the run passes the sonar site in August according to Fish and Game. However 26 percent of the late-run is estimated to have passed the sonar in August.
Abysmal in-season chinook salmon projections caused the closure of the king salmon sport fishery which triggered a closure of the east side setnet fishery.
When the chinook numbers rose in August the setnet fishery was re-opened for the last of its periods, but Shadura said the state should take responsibility for management decisions he felt led to the disaster.
“It just seems inconceivable that the state shouldn’t take a responsible role in assisting the fishing community,” he said. “We support the governor’s efforts but I think the state is responsible. People are not going to make it very long.”
According to the letter, restrictions on commercial and sport fisheries in the northern district have also put pressure on guides and other businesses which depend on fisheries in the Upper Cook Inlet to survive.
This request follows two other disaster declarations on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers for their king runs.