The Department of Commerce today declared a resource disaster for the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Upper Cook Inlet Chinook salmon fisheries -- making future federal resources and aid possible for impacted regions. On behalf of Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco shared the news with each member of Alaska's Congressional Delegation individually Thursday morning -- with the Alaskan lawmakers responding in appreciation of the decision.
Alaska's fisheries have seen a drastic drop in Chinook salmon runs this season, triggering many closures. Alaska's delegation has encouraged the Commerce Secretary to make the disaster declaration -- backing Governor Sean Parnell's requests, as well as concerns raised by the Alaska Federation of Natives. The low king salmon runs have had devastating impacts on commercial and sport fishing industries, as well as subsistence users. Many communities dependent on subsistence -- including the Alaska Native peoples who for generations have depended on fish to feed their families -- do not have an adequate supply of king salmon this year, and many commercial fishermen and sport fishing guides have lost the majority of their income this fishing season.
"Today's declaration demonstrates that we have clearly made our case to the federal government, and they see the disastrous impacts of low salmon runs on our state," said Senator Lisa Murkowski. "Fisheries are critical to our economy, our culture, and our lifestyle -- the anemic King runs this season have hurt numerous areas in our state and deserve attention and assistance from the federal government."
"In Alaska, fish is the primary livelihood of our communities throughout the Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Cook Inlet regions. Fishermen and their families have endured a great deal of stress both financially and emotionally from the disastrously weak Chinook returns this year," said Senator Mark Begich. "Prompt recognition of this by the Secretary of Commerce will help Alaskans affected better understand the causes of this disaster and move forward on a path toward recovery."
"This is an important declaration for the people of Alaska -- especially those living on the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Cook Inlet," said Representative Don Young. "The fact is, Alaskans depend on fish for survival and with such a terrible run of Kings this year, people are hurting. I will continue to work with the rest of the Alaska Delegation and Governor Parnell to ensure Alaskans needs are met."
Important Note: Today's announcement is a positive advancement, but just the first step of a lengthy process. While this declaration came swifter than a similar fisheries disaster decision in 2009, the time involved between a decision and disbursement of funds can take over a year. For more information on federal fishery disaster assistance is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/sf3/disaster.htm.