State requests federal disaster declaration for Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery

Fishing boats in Kodiak. (Photo by James Brooks / Flickr)

Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott signed a letter last week asking the federal government to declare the 2018 Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska a disaster. If the fishery is declared a federal disaster, it’s eligible for relief funds, although where the money would go is unclear at this point in the process.

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Last year, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council decided to decrease the 2018 Pacific cod quota in the Gulf by 80 percent in response to a decline in stock. Fishing communities geared up for long-term consequences.

The Kodiak Island Borough and City of Kodiak were among those to send a letter of support for a disaster declaration at a state level.

City Councilman John Whiddon, who co-chairs the borough and city’s Fisheries Work Group, says it’s too soon to tell what the decline means for the community. He says they may know more after the cod season wraps up and tax numbers come in.

“So, once we start to collate that, and if this is indeed a multiyear impact, then we’ll start to put together better information to forward onto the governor, and we’ll have more specific requests as to the general disaster declaration, so this is just the first stage I think in what’s gonna be a multi-year process,” Whiddon said.

This’ll be the second fishery disaster the Gulf has gone through in recent years. The first was for the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon season, which the state requested after the season ended.

The federal government declared that fishery a disaster at the beginning of last year. And, in February, the state learned the pink salmon season would be one of nine fisheries to share $200 million in relief funds. That’s much less than the $150 million senators requested for Alaska alone.

Barbara Blake, senior advisor to Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, says the pacific cod declaration is different in that the state is requesting it before the season is over, but the process for securing funds is similar.

Blake says the letter will go to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and, if the declaration goes through, the federal government will work with the state to make an appropriation request.

“How we’ve seen this come about in the past is that that request goes in along with other natural disasters, and that’s usually how we end up getting the appropriations for that is that they roll it into natural disasters like hurricane relief and things of that nature,” Blake said.

That’s how the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fisheries won funding. It’s unclear if the timeline for this declaration will be comparable.

Kayla Deroches is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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