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Dillingham officials declare economic disaster in city

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2001

DILLINGHAM (AP) -- Following this year's commercial fishery failure, the Dillingham City Council has declared 2001 an economic disaster in the city.

Officials also appointed a local task force to address the area's stifled economy.

The council made its unanimous declaration July 25 and asked Gov. Tony Knowles and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to do the same. The resolution adopted stated that families face a difficult winter because of the poor fishery, and that debts and loans incurred from several bad fishing years would only make things worse, the Bristol Bay Times reported.

''We're not talking about one sector in the community here,'' Mayor Chris Napoli said. ''We're talking about the whole community. What is more distressing is that here in Dillingham we are somewhat better off than some of the villages. So often we focus on Dillingham, but we rely on commerce from the surrounding villages. Some of these villages may have a long, hard winter ahead, and we need to do something about it.''

The task force will be comprised of local business people as well as representatives from local Native organizations. The goal is to provide insight into this year's hardships and come up with ideas on how to bring in more money locally.

''We are looking for financial assistance,'' said council member Keggie Tubbs. ''Passing the disaster declaration will hopefully help loosen some purse strings and address the problem of the economy being in the dumps. This is what brought about the task force.''

The effects of low catch numbers, low per-pound prices and the overwhelming number of commercial fishing boats competing for fish in the Nushagak District rippled throughout the community this year.

''We're trying to avoid a fold of services and goods,'' said city council member Duwayne Johnson. A commercial fisherman, Johnson said he is feeling the pinch like so many others that fished this summer. Low fish returns in Bristol Bay for the past several years has complicated things.

Traditionally, 250 to 300 boats fished in the district. This year there's more than 700, Johnson said.

''The last four years have been disastrous; some people are going into bankruptcies,'' he said. ''We've cinched up our purse strings as tight as we can. We can't go any tighter.''

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