Relief applications open for Alaska’s 2019 and 2020 crab fisheries disasters

Snow crab fishermen sort their catch. (Courtesy Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers)

In March of 2020 a fishery disaster was declared for the 2019 Norton Sound Red King crab fishery and a year later for the 2019-2020 Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery.

Roughly four years later, affected fishers can now apply to receive a portion of $14.4 million in total federal relief funds for both fisheries.

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Executive Director Jamie Goen said the vast majority of that funding — nearly $13 million — will go to the Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery.

“The total for this disaster is around $13 million which can be shared with harvesters, processors, CDQ groups, communities’ research. We’re excited that that application process has started and is going to be open over the summer here,” Goen said.

But that amount is small potatoes compared to the more recent fishery disasters from 2021 to 2023 that impacted Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab, as well as the 2021-2022 Tanner crab fishery. Between those two back-to-back disasters, Congress has appropriated roughly $190 million to be awarded to affected fishers.

However, Goen notes that funding is still being reviewed and could take another year or more before an application period opens up. 

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game submitted the final spending plan to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission on Jan. 10 for those specific disasters. But NOAA Fisheries is one of the agencies in charge of reviewing the spending plan, along with the Office of Management and Budget, before awarding the final grant funding for fisheries disasters.

Goen said her organization has been working at the national level to speed up the fishery disaster process, which on average has been taking three to five years before financial relief reaches fishermen.

“Because our fisheries disaster process takes so long, it’s accelerating losing independent harvesters and these family businesses around the country. We’ve got to find a system that can get money out the door in six months; something much more akin to what farmers get when they get emergency relief,” Goen said. “Or a couple years ago we had the USDA did a Seafood Trade Relief program that got money out the door within six weeks.”

Meanwhile, another fishery disaster for Bering Sea snow crab was determined in May by the Secretary of Commerce for the 2023-2024 fishery. With the current trend, relief money from that disaster won’t likely be available until 2027 or 2028. Based on NOAA Fisheries’ timeline, it takes up to two weeks for the funds to be allocated by Congress after the determination is made. A spend plan must then be submitted within 120 days of the funds being allocated and then grant funding is scheduled to be awarded by NOAA Fisheries within 90 days after a complete spend plan is received.

Any fishers impacted by the 2019-2020 Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery disaster have until Aug. 3 to submit their applications for the first phase for quota share permit holders and vessel owners. And then the second application due date is Sept. 20 for vessel captains and crew.

For more information and to find the application, visit the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission website.

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