U.S. Commerce Secretary approves new disasters for crab fisheries in Alaska

A deck of a boat pulling up crab pots
Crew from the Silver Spray empty snow crab pots while fishing in the Bering Sea. (Courtesy of Bill Prout)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has approved six fishery disaster designations for the state of Alaska – including 2021’s Yukon-Kuskokwim and Chignik salmon fisheries. Crabbers will also see relief for this year’s Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced this fall that both fisheries would remain closed for the season due to low population numbers.

Alaska’s congressional delegation applauded the disaster approvals in a joint statement Friday.

Gabriel Prout is a Bering Sea crab fisherman from Kodiak. He owns the F/V Silver Spray with his family. He says there’s still uncertainty in the fleet about the road ahead, but Friday’s announcement is a big step forward.

“Definitely brings a little bit of some type of psychological relief that they’re working and taking this disaster seriously and what the fishermen are going through,” said Prout.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen said in an email that the trade group “looks forward to Congress acting swiftly to appropriate the necessary funds to help America’s fishermen and coastal communities weather these crises and to fund research to help avoid them in the future.”

Researchers say they aren’t certain what caused the snow crab’s population collapse, which led to the fishery’s closure, but they believe climate change was a factor. Changing ocean conditions due to climate change are also likely contributing to salmon declines in parts of western Alaska.

Congress still needs to allocate funding for each disaster designation, and fishermen have to apply for financial relief. The process often takes years to get money to skippers and their crews.

Raimondo issued determinations that fisheries disasters occurred in:

  • 2021/2022 Alaska Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Bering Sea Snow Crab Fisheries
  • 2021 Alaska Kuskokwim River Salmon and Norton Sound Chum and Coho Salmon Fisheries
  • 2021 Chignik Salmon Fisheries
  • 2020 Copper River/Prince William Sound Coho and Pink Salmon Fisheries
  • 2020/2021 Alaska Norton Sound Red King Crab Fisheries
  • 2022/2023 Alaska Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Bering Sea Snow Crab Fisheries
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