Alaska is set to receive more than $20 million in fisheries disaster relief funds, in the wake of low king salmon runs two years ago which devastated the livelihood of Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Cook Inlet fishermen.
In a Monday statement, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says about a third of the funds, roughly $7.8 million, will be distributed by mail to those affected by 2012’s salmon shortages in the near future.
“This award covers direct payments to commercial fishermen and breaks out as $3.2 million for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region and $4.6 million for the Cook Inlet region,” NOAA officials wrote.
Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger says the funds, part of a $75 million package NOAA announced in February covering six fisheries disasters across the U.S., have been a high priority at the agency since they became available.
“From the moment we learned that Alaska would receive fishery disaster relief funds, our first priority has been to get those dollars directly into the hands of fishermen who were impacted by the fisheries failure,” Balsiger said in the statement. “Approval of the grant application for direct assistance means that will happen very soon.”
“There's been a lot of expectations from many in the villages, because they've been calling us wanting to know when that money is going to be coming available,” said Doug Mecum, a deputy regional administrator with NOAA.
NOAA says grant applications are in the mail with people in this region set to receive anywhere from $200 to about $5,000.
Cook Inlet was also hit by commercial closures. The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association estimates east-side set netters lost 90 percent of their revenue in 2012.
“It's important to note that this isn't complete relief -- it's just a incremental payout if you will,” said Jim Butler, president of Resources for All Alaskans. “So fishermen will be required to pay taxes on it and to address their crew, and so as any small-business person knows, any help is help and it's appreciated.”
The rest of the fishery disaster relief fund will go toward helping other businesses.
“There are some components in the second grant that would compensate guides, sport fishing businesses, lodges, entities such as that,” Mecum said.
Longtime fishing guide Greg Brush says that whenever the money comes, the short king salmon runs have already done their damage.
“My industry has lost hundreds of guides,” Brush said. “Some of them are part-timers and some of them are schoolteachers and such -- nonetheless, there has been a tremendous drop in fishing guides in this community.”
Financial help is on its way, but for some the financial pains continue.
“2014 has been as difficult a season as 2012, so we'll see what happens in the future,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
With some of the federal money headed toward salmon research, the hope is that a long-term solution to chinook declines can be found.
NOAA hopes to have money in the hands of fishermen by the end of September, but first they must return applications for the funds. According to NOAA, paperwork is being sent to permit holders.
Channel 2's Dan Carpenter contributed information to this story.