State CARES plan splits $50M among fishery sectors

  • The Kodiak boat harbor is seen in this file photo. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has released a draft plan to distribute CARES Act relief funding to fishermen. (Photo/File/AJOC)

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials plan to evenly distribute $50 million in fisheries pandemic relief aid among the sport, commercial and processing sectors with smaller amounts set aside for mitigating impacts to aquaculture businesses and subsistence harvesters.

The department’s draft plan allocates 32 percent of the $50 million, or about $16 million, for the three major sectors of Alaska’s fishing industry; $500,000, or 1 percent of the funds would go to aquaculture businesses and $1.5 million, or 3 percent of the total would be dedicated to offset challenges to subsistence harvests.

The money is Alaska’s share of $300 million Congress directed for fishery relief nationwide in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in the early days of business shutdowns and travel restrictions nationwide.

While the state reliably accounts for more than half of the country’s commercial seafood landings and has a robust sport fishing industry, the CARES fisheries money was calculated state-by-state based on the residency of commercial harvesters and the homeport for at-sea processing vessels, per guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seven-page spending plan states.

According to the plan, NOAA Fisheries calculated the total revenue from the sport, commercial and processing sectors in eligible jurisdictions.

“For Alaska, average annual landings revenue data in the commercial harvesting sector was adjusted to attribute landing to each vessel owner’s state of residence to better reflect where fishing income accrues,” the plan states. “The adjustments were made by determining the proportion of landings in Alaska fisheries attributed to vessel owners residing in another state and attributing that portion of the revenue to the respective states of residence.”

Eligible applicants in a fishing business must certify that they incurred a revenue loss of more than 35 percent during the period from March 1 to Nov. 1 directly resulting from the pandemic. Revenue figures from that period will be compared against gross revenue totals from the previous five years for the period.

Applicants must have operated their business in 2018 and 2019 but those without revenue records for all of the previous five years will be able to average gross revenues from the available years. Projections of income or losses will not be accepted, according to the plan documents.

The revenue information NOAA Fisheries used to reach the $50 million allocation for Alaska attributed 5.5 percent of qualifying revenue to the sport charter sector, 35.2 percent to the commercial harvesting sector and 59.3 percent to seafood processors, wholesalers and distributors. However, those revenue splits were based on historical information and do not reflect the likely loss in each sector due to the pandemic, according to ADFG.

The sport charter allocation was increased significantly “to help mitigate loss to that sector resulting from travel restrictions and health mandates that reduced demand for sport charter services,” the plan states.

While state officials deemed fishing an essential industry in spring when other business sectors were forced to temporarily close, nonresident sport charter customers were not given special clearance to travel to Alaska as nonresident commercial fishing and processing workers were.

United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she could not comment on the plan because the large organization’s board of directors had not formally reviewed it. Leaders of several other commercial fishing groups across the state said they were similarly in the process of reviewing the plan.

ADFG is taking public comments on the draft plan through Oct. 19.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ben Mohr said the even split among the three large sectors is a recognition of that issue. Mohr noted that many commercial fishery participants dealt with lower market prices stemming from a lack of restaurant demand, particularly in spring, but emphasized that they were still able to fish.

“Many of our sport and charter folks didn’t get to fish at all. The tourist business that these guys rely on didn’t materialize,” he said.

Mohr said anecdotal reports indicate many Southcentral sport fishing guide and charter operators took between a 60 to 70 percent loss in revenue this year and the losses were often worse for those in more remote locations where travel was even more difficult. In Southeast, where cruise ships bring more than 1 million potential charter customers to Alaska each year, the losses for some businesses have reached 90 percent of their usual revenue, according to Mohr.

He added that some operators likely offered deep discounts or resident specials in order to generate more business and questioned how many of them would not hit the 35 percent loss threshold because of it.

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will publish the final application materials and review and approve the federal aid applications for the state, according to the plan.

The $1.5 million subsistence allocation is set to be split evenly among qualify applicants, provided a member of an applying household participated in a marine or anadromous subsistence fishery in at least two of the previous four years.

ADFG Legislative Liaison Rachel Hanke wrote via email that discussions with members of communities with high rates of subsistence harvests revealed that the biggest impact to them was from travel restrictions. Many younger Alaskans that have moved to urban centers were unable to travel to their home villages and communities to participate in harvests, according to Hanke.

She wrote that the eligible subsistence impacts could be broad and “any impact at all that meets the intent of the act” will be allowable.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

10/14/2020 - 9:31am