On Wednesday, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker gave federal disaster designations to nine commercial fisheries on the West Coast. Each area has suffered sudden declines in biomass due to unfavorable ocean and climatic conditions, and Pritzker's decision will allow eligible fishermen to claim relief assistance from Congress.
“The Commerce Department and NOAA stand with America's fishing communities. We are proud of the contributions they make to the nation's economy, and we recognize the sacrifices they are forced to take in times of environmental hardship," said Samuel D. Rauch III, deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs with NOAA Fisheries. "We are committed to helping these communities recover and achieve success in the future."
For communities to claim assistance, Congress would have to appropriate funds for relief. NOAA said that it would work closely with Congressional representatives to secure their support.
The disaster designations apply to the Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery; the California dungeness crab and rock crab fishery; the Washington ocean salmon troll fishery; and tribal salmon fisheries at Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, the Lower Elwha, the Queets River and the South Puget Sound.
The Gulf of Alaska designation came at the request of Alaska governor Bill Walker, who cited unusually low harvests in the summer of 2016 at Kodiak, Chignik, Cook Inlet and in Southeast Alaska. At Kodiak the catch was down to one fifth of its usual levels.
"In addition to commercial fisherman and fish processors, those who sell fuel, tackle, supplies, groceries and lodging are also struggling," Walker said in a statement to Alaska Dispatch News. "Local governments will also feel the burden on their economic base. We are pleased with this news from the U.S. Department of Commerce and we will work with the federal government going forward to address this issue."