Commerce Department declares fisheries disaster

by Angela Denning-Barnes on September 13, 2012

The U.S. Department of Commerce today declared a resource disaster for the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and Upper Cook Inlet Chinook salmon fisheries. The declaration will make future federal resources and aid possible for the impacted regions. Congress would first have to approve any relief money.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank says that low Chinook salmon returns this year and in previous years is the reason for the declaration. Alaska’s fisheries have seen a drastic drop in King salmon runs this season, triggering many closures.

It’s the second fisheries disaster declared for the Yukon River since 2009. Myron Naneng is the President of the Association of Village Council Presidents, representing 56 tribes in the Y-K Delta. He says the declaration, “reflects that both the state and federal agencies need to consider other factors of why we’re having such a shortage of King salmon.”

AVCP passed a resolution in July requesting a disaster declaration for the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. Naneng hopes the disaster declaration will change the King salmon by-catch numbers in the Bering Sea Pollock fisheries.

“And probably reduce that amount that they had voted into using as their limit back in 2009,” said Naneng. “47,000 Chinook salmon that can go up to 60,000. And I think that that definitely needs to be lowered.”

Alaska’s delegation encouraged the commerce secretary to make the disaster declaration, which backs Governor Sean Parnell’s requests, as well as resolutions by AVCP and the Alaska Federation of Natives.

In a written statement, the delegation notes that the declaration is a positive advancement, but just the first step of a lengthy process. They say 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.

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