By Dave Donaldson
U-S Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today (Friday) formally recognized last year’s fishing disaster in Western Alaska. In announcing the decision he also recognized that the people of the region depend on Chinook salmon for commercial harvests, jobs and food. He said the communities in the region do not have the economic diversity to withstand such an economic impact.
Governor Parnell spoke with the secretary this morning to thank him for the declaration. Parnell asked for federal assistance shortly after taking office in August. For Parnell, there was no question of the merits of the assistance.
The high cost of living, along with the devastating flooding of the spring, and then to have the fishery disaster as well – the low runs — just compounded misery.
The declaration does not give immediate disaster aid to residents of the area. Parnell says instead that it sets up future funding.
What it does is it allows our Congressional delegation to secure that federal appropriation and then, once it’s there, the money can be used for relief programs, but it can also be used for fisheries stock research, and training programs and fishery infrastructure to build up those runs as well.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens act, the disaster can be declared for a commercial fishing failure due to natural causes, man-made causes beyond management decisions, and unknown causes. In 2008, fisheries managers reduced the harvest to eighty-nine percent of the previous five-year average – and, according to Commerce Department information, disallowed any commercial harvest in 2009.