Kenai Peninsula mayor declares salmon disaster

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley has declared an economic disaster, requesting state and federal aid for commercial fishermen, processors and others hurt by dismal Cook Inlet sockeye salmon returns.

''Cook Inlet area and Kenai Peninsula Borough residents have been subjected to the worst fishing year on record,'' Bagley's declaration reads. ''The total return of this year's sockeye fishery was approximately 50 percent of the 20-year average. The total revenue from this year's sockeye fishery was approximately 20 percent of the 20-year average.''

The mayor's declaration expires in seven days unless it is ratified by the borough assembly. The assembly will meet Thursday night to consider a resolution supporting the mayor's declaration, said assembly president Bill Popp of Kenai.

Popp said low-interest Small Business Administration loans appear to be the most appropriate response to low sockeye returns.

''The assembly makes the request to the state government ... to bring in any and all available assistance, which in this case is Small Business Administration loans,'' he said.

Jeff Fox, area biologist for the state Division of Commercial Fisheries, said upper inlet commercial fishermen caught just 1.3 million sockeyes this year compared with an average catch since 1974 of nearly 3.5 million.

Upper inlet fishermen earned just $8.2 million this year, compared with a 20-year average of roughly $40 million, Fox said.

At the request of local legislators and mayors, Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, head of Knowles' disaster cabinet, visited Soldotna Aug. 18 to hear how the dismal run has hurt commercial fishermen, processors and related businesses.

Bob King, Knowles' press secretary, said the disaster cabinet will review Bagley's declaration to determine whether it satisfies state disaster statutes. It also will compare the Cook Inlet situation to criteria the state has used in declaring Western Alaska salmon disasters, including whether the harvest was less than 50 percent of the long-term average, whether subsistence needs met and whether escapement needs were met.

On Aug. 18, Dave Liebersbach, director of the Division of Emergency Services, said a state declaration could bring up to $1 million in immediate aid and more later if the Legislature and the administration agree to funding. The state also could request federal aid.

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