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Cook Inlet region to receive $11.1 million in fisheries disaster aid

Posted: May 24, 2014 - 9:38pm

The National Marine Fisheries Service and other entities have reached a decision on a regional split of the $20.8 million in federal aid for fisheries disasters, but how to spend that money is still being decided.

Cook Inlet fishers, businesses and other organizations will receive $11.1 million in federal fisheries disaster aid for the poor salmon runs in 2012, according to NMFS spokeswoman Julie Speegle. Those in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region will receive $9.6 million, she wrote in a May 23 email.

Congress appropriated the funds earlier this year in response to the disaster declaration made for poor king runs on the Yukon River in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the Kuskokwim River in 2011 and 2012 and for Cook Inlet’s 2012 salmon fisheries.

Now, NMFS is working with 11 representative organizations to develop the spending plans, although they won’t be made public immediately, Speegle wrote.

“Because the draft spending plans are pre-decisional, they are not available to the public,” Speegle wrote.

In March, NMFS proposed 10 representative groups help develop the spending plans, and then a different group — the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission — help execute them.

The agency took public comment on that structure, and decided to add an additional group to the mix.

Speegle wrote that NMFS developed and finalized the list of representative groups in consultation with the State of Alaska and the state’s congressional delegation. The 11th group, the Kenai Watershed Forum, was added after the public comment period ended, she wrote.

For Cook Inlet, the Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs, Northern District Setnetters Association, Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association and Kenai River Professional Guide Association are working on a spending plan.

For the Yukon-Kuskokwim area, the Association of Village Council Presidents, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association and Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association are helping with the plan.

Pacific States, which is based in Portland, Ore., was responsible for distributing the $5 million appropriation for the 2009 Yukon disaster, and it appears the commission will do so again this go-around.

Speegle wrote that the commission is expected to formulate a grant application by June 1, which will then be sent to NOAA Grants for funding approval. The approval is expected to come in July. Then the Office of Management and Budge must approve the plan, she wrote.

Once the grant is approved, the spending plans will be released to the public, Speegle wrote.

Then the first priority will be getting direct-aid money distributed to affected fishers and businesses, and then determining how to use the research money, Speegle wrote in an earlier email.

The spending plans are expected to include a mix of direct aid and other fisheries disaster related expenditures, including research, according to Speegle, although the plans will not identify specific research projects.

“It will include research priorities and a description of the competitive process to review and award research projects addressing those priorities,” Speegle wrote.

Speegle said that NMFS has held conference calls with the representative groups from each region to work on the spending plans.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s Ricky Gease said the Cook Inlet groups have been working together on their plans.

“I think so far all the groups are working together to come up with good solid plans, and trying to give the best available information to Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission,” Gease said May 22.

Gease said the Cook Inlet groups are working on a plan that splits the money with $4.6 million for the commercial sector, $4.6 million for the recreational sector and about $2 million for research.

In comments submitted to NMFS in April and acquired by the Peninsula Clarion via a Freedom of Information Act request, setnetters and guides generally supported spending most, or all, of the funds on direct aid.

The split between commercial and recreational came from NMFS, the State of Alaska and the congressional delegation, not the representative groups, Gease said.

Now, the representative groups for each sector are working on the spending plan for that sector, Gease said.

“People are just going through, reviewing drafts,” Gease said.

On the recreational side, Gease said the plan is to make the direct-aid as widely-available as possible, with sport fishing guides, sport fishing guide businesses, accommodations, and other related businesses where a significant percent of the business is related to recreational fishing, all eligible to apply for the direct payments.

If that goes through as planned, Pacific States would be the entity to review the applications, determine eligibility, and make the payments, Gease said. Most likely, the applicants would need to show a loss or reduction of 35 percent or more in 2012 compared to prior years, he said.

Gease said he thought setnetters were looking at a similar plan, but didn’t know if processors would be included.

For the Kuskokwim region, AVCP’s Myron Naneng said that the groups are still working on a joint proposal. AVCP sent a draft to the other groups on May 22, and was waiting to hear back before they released it, he said.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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