By Sarah Lapidus
Kodiak Daily Mirror, seafoodnews[dot]com 11/20/19
Fishermen who were expecting payments from the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery disaster relief in December will have to wait until March to receive their checks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Many Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permit holder applicants misreported their crew percentages or did not list any crew at all, said Karla Bush, the Fish and Game federal fisheries coordinator.
The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will delay payments until after the crew member application deadline on Jan. 31.
"I know participants were expecting checks to come six to eight weeks after the Oct. 31 deadline. That's now going to be pushed back," Bush said.
The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission is an interstate agency that helps resource agencies and the fishing industry manage fisheries resources. Member states include Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
After crew members send in their applications, Fish and Game will match crew members to the permit holders they work for. Payments will be sent to permit holders and crew at the same time, Bush said.
Payments to crew will be deducted from the permit holder's total disaster payment based on the crew shares provided in the permit holder's application.
The amount each permit holder received was calculated by averaging the value of pink salmon caught in even years from 2006 to 2014, minus the value of fish caught in 2016.
However, fishermen were concerned that the payment calculation did not take into account the unique circumstances in the fishing industry.
For example, some fishermen switched from a lower volume gear type to a higher volume gear type. Others had a partial catch history instead of a full or no catch history, causing their payments to be substantially less than others who fished alongside them, according to a letter written by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.
To address such issues and review calculations, an appeal process was put in place. Friday was the deadline to appeal.
These payments are part of the $53.8 million approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July to restore losses caused by a poor 2016 salmon season in the Gulf of Alaska. The areas receiving funds are Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat.
Fishery permit holders and crew will receive $31 million, fish processors will receive $17.7, municipalities will receive $2.4 million and $3.63 million will go to research.
The payments to municipalities will be based on losses of fish taxes, Bush said.
Calculations for municipality payments are not yet available because NOAA is working the office of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget on the approval process.
Municipalities will use the funds for specific projects related to the pink salmon fishery such as projects that support the pink salmon fishing fleet.
"The people at NOAA grants are trying to work with the office of OMB in the White House to see at what level the projects need to be approved," Bush said. "OMB wants to approve the list of projects that each municipality will put forward themselves. We know that that will cause some additional delays, so we hope those will be approved by Pacific States or NOAA grants and not have to be forwarded all the way to the highest level."
Fish and Game is also waiting on fishery tax information from the Alaska Department of Revenue as a basis to calculate the payments, Bush said.
The tax information is vital before calculating the payment amount, because the Department of Revenue does a "split between the cities and boroughs and so I would expect the city of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough would be getting a share of those moneys," Bush said.
To expedite future fisheries disaster funding, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sponsored legislation that would reform NOAA's Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program of the National Marine Fisheries Service to expedite relief for fishermen during fishery disasters.