Fishermen say federal aid program falls short

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The needs of Alaska fishermen hurt by the downturn in the fishing industry are not being met by a federal assistance program designed for industries adversely affected by foreign trade, according to Alaskans attending a federal hearing in Juneau.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Labor were in town Thursday at the state's request. Their mission: to discuss the plight of the Alaska's fishing industry and try to determine ways to make federal assistance more accessible to fishermen.

Discussion centered on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which is intended to provide job training and relocation benefits to workers who lost employment and income due to competition from imports. The Alaska salmon industry is struggling in large part due to the influx of farmed salmon imports from Canada and Chile.

Many who testified said the program provides no help for the fishing industry, the Juneau Empire reported.

''How many of us want to be retrained to flip hamburgers?'' said Homer fisherman Ray Welsh. ''I'm a fisherman with an investment. I've been at it for 50 years. I don't see as help anything you folks have said yet.''

Tim Sullivan, Labor's director of the program, said the agency is aware the program is not a good fit for Alaska's fishing industry. Part of the criteria for the program requires at least three workers in a firm to be adversely affected. Those terms don't accommodate Alaska fishermen, who often work alone or with just one crew member on a boat.

Sullivan said he would take information gathered at the hearing back to Washington, D.C., and discuss it with the agency's lawyers.

''We'll see if there's some way we can make more of this Trade Adjustment Assistance available to workers in the fishing industry that might benefit from it,'' he said.

Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, suggested an effort be made to lobby Congress for changes to the program, noting that Alaska needs the fishing industry.

''I'm a little concerned about what's going to happen in the next few years, given that seafood is second only to oil as a revenue generator in our state,'' she said.

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