Disaster declared: Cook Inlet salmon run nets designation

Commercial setnet fishermen listen to a speaker in July during a rally in Kenai to protest closures in their fishery.

Help may be on the way for local fishermen, however aid could take months to materialize. 


Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank determined that three regions of the Alaska chinook salmon fishery qualified as disaster regions after reviewing information submitted by Gov. Sean Parnell. 

Parnell asked for disaster declarations on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in July and for the Cook Inlet in early August. 

The declaration paves the way for Congress to appropriate funding for the affected regions. If and when it does, the aid will be disbursed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, which will provide assistance to affected communities. 

If Congress appropriates funding it will probably come with allocation instructions and a “best case scenario” for affected communities would be to see relief in three months, said Julie Speegle, spokesperson for NOAA.

“Its going to depend on some of the behind-the-scenes stuff ... it has been done in as quickly as 90 days,” she said. 

There is no standing fund for fishery disaster relief according to NOAA policy guideline documents. 

The commercial fishery failure is a first for the Cook Inlet, however, the Kuskokwim River is in its second year of a fishery resource disaster and the Yukon River is in its third. 

According to Blank’s letter the exact causes for poor chinook salmon returns are unknown but have caused a significant loss both in access to fisheries and anticipated revenue. 

“Commercial fishery failures can have cascading economic impacts on subsistence and sport fisheries,” according to the letter. “In addition, the Cook Inlet chinook salmon fishery supports an important sport fishery, which is one of the principal economic drivers for the local and regional economy.”

Senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, released statements supporting the declarations as did Representative Don Young, R-Alaska. 

When Parnell submitted his disaster declaration Begich, Murkowski and Young wrote to the Department of Commerce expressing their support for the disaster declaration citing a drop in revenue of nearly 90 percent for the east-side setnetters in the Cook Inlet and a 50 pecent reduction for northern district fishermen. 

“Businesses dependent on recreational fishing are a principle driver of the economy in the Kenai and Susitna river drainages and both were severely impacted by the downturn of the chinook stocks,” they wrote. “Fishing closures and restrictions to ensure conservation of the stocks deprived these businesses a critical source of income, and residents a traditional and important source of food for their families.”

While today’s announcement came swifter than a similar fisheries disaster declaration decision in 2009, it can take more than a year for funds to be released according to the media release. 


Rashah Mcchesney can be reached at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com.