ADF&G releases draft plan for CARES Act fishery relief funds

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 7:19 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is accepting public feedback on its draft plan for how the state will spend the $50 million allocated to it for fisheries relief under Section 12005 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Section 12005 of the CARES Act provided $300 million in fisheries relief. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries data, Alaska accounts for 58% of the country’s total commercial fisheries landings and 32% of the country’s total fisheries value. However, when allocating the assistance funds, NOAA Fisheries capped the amount any state could receive at $50 million, or approximately 16% of the CARES Act Section 12005 funds. Washington and Alaska were the only states that received the maximum amount.

ADF&G’s draft plan will divide the state allocation by sector. Commercial harvesters, processing workers and sportfishing charter operators will each have a $16 million pool to draw relief from. The department’s plan also allocates $1.5 million to subsistence users and $500,000 to those in the aquaculture industry.

The plan would require applicants to meet residency requirements and demonstrate that their revenue was reduced by more than 35% from March through November of this year, compared to the same period the previous five years.

Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker says the department doesn’t know exactly how many people will be eligible to apply for the relief funds, but she expects a large portion of fishermen and other workers to be eligible.

“Anecdotally, we have heard from across all fisheries that essentially due to changes in market demand from restaurants closing to overseas markets being really impacted by COVID, that as a general rule fish prices are down pretty far this year. And the ranges that I’ve heard are anywhere from 25 to sometimes 80% depending on what species you’re talking about,” Baker said. “I think we are expecting that a pretty large proportion of eligible fishery participants in all of the sectors will be able to meet that revenue loss threshold. The same goes for the charter sector.”

Alaska’s seafood industry employs approximately 60,000 people. Although many workers and fishermen are from out of state, a report released earlier this year by the McDowell Group showed that in 2018, more than 16,000 skippers and crew were Alaska residents, and more than 7,000 processing workers were Alaska residents.

Although a report on the impacts of the pandemic on Alaska’s seafood industry published last month shows that processing employment this summer was down approximately 13% from 2019, the number of those potentially eligible in the industry could stretch the relief funds thin.

“We grappled with that as we were developing this spending plan. We have tried to have those discussions with fishery participants over the past couple of months,” Baker said. “I think it’s clear to all Alaskans just given the broad suite of fisheries that we have and the critical importance to our state, that $50 million sounds like a lot of money, but when we’re considering all of the people that are eligible, it is certainly not going, I don’t think, to cover anyone’s losses completely. I just don’t see there being enough money to be able to do that.”

Baker says the department’s plan is a stimulus-based approach.

“We certainly will not be able to make anyone whole for the losses that they have incurred due to COVID. We will be able to provide some assistance through this stimulus type approach that hopefully if fishery participants are eligible for other types of CARES Act assistance or other programs that are available, that these funds could be used in conjunction with that to help mitigate some of the losses that they’ve incurred this year,” Baker said.

ADF&G is accepting public comment on the plan through 6 p.m. on Oct. 19.

The final plan will have to be submitted to and approved by NOAA Fisheries before individuals will receive relief funds.

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