Bush approves aid package for fishing industry

Posted: Friday, August 02, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Bush administration has agreed to an aid package worth tens of millions of dollars for Alaska fishermen and fishing communities hard hit by low prices and bad runs.

The package is patterned after government programs to help displaced Northwest loggers and after long-standing assistance for farmers, say Alaska's two U.S. senators, who negotiated the agreement.

The White House says it will:

--Provide $15 million a year in economic development grants to Alaska fishing communities through 2007, plus $2 million immediately.

--Provide $8 million a year to retrain Alaska fishermen and fish-processing workers for other jobs through 2007.

--Allow Alaskans who work in the fishing industry benefit from aid programs for American workers hurt by foreign competition. These ''trade adjustment assistance'' programs could provide more money for job training, plus financial support for fishermen who are enrolled in training courses, among other benefits.

''This is a substantial, I think, response to the concern about what are we going to do about Alaska fisheries as we go through this interim-period adjustment of trying to compete with foreign, farmed salmon,'' said Sen. Frank Murkowski, who is running for governor as a Republican.

Bristol Bay, scene of the state's most valuable commercial salmon fishery, suffered one of its worst seasons this summer since the 1970s.

The problem was a low catch of about 10.5 million red salmon, coupled with a weak price of 40 cents per pound. Overall, the fishery paid fishermen $25 million, compared with more than $200 million a decade ago.

Expecting a bad payoff, about 700 of the bay's nearly 1,900 fishing boat permit holders stayed home this year. Boat and permit values have plunged, and bay communities are seeing an outmigration of residents, according to local leaders.

The announcement from Washington came a day after Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat also campaigning for governor, outlined her economic policies.

She called for ''a new approach to fishery management -- where quality is the top priority'' and ''a marketing blitz.''

Her campaign spokesman, Jason Moore, said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the federal aid package announced Thursday.

''It illustrates, I guess, the importance of having very senior and influential senators back in D.C., particularly at a time when there's a Republican in the White House,'' he said.

Murkowski and Sen. Ted Stevens obtained the Bush administration's aid commitment in the course of negotiations over a trade bill the president wants.

''I don't remember getting a multiyear commitment on anything like this before,'' Stevens said. ''Sen. Murkowski negotiated a very good arrangement, and he did it through a different approach than we had before, dealing with Commerce (Department) and White House staff on the trade issues.''

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