Commercial fishing vessels are seen on the Kenai River on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Commercial fishing vessels are seen on the Kenai River on July 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Borough to ask feds for fishery disaster declaration

The year saw fewer and smaller fish, as well as lower-priced fish

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to ask the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to declare a sockeye salmon fisheries failure and economic disaster in the Upper Subdistrict of the Central District of Cook Inlet in response to a year that saw fewer and smaller fish, as well as lower-priced fish.

According to a memo to the assembly from Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, the borough has not received a response from the state regarding a request from the assembly last month for Gov. Mike Dunleavy to declare an economic disaster in the Upper Cook Inlet fisheries region.

The same memo says that a provision in the Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to determine whether or not there is a commercial fishery failure “due to a fishery resource disaster as a result of natural causes” or “man-made causes beyond the control of fishery managers to mitigate,” among others.

Such requests can be made by a state governor or from representatives of an “affected fishing community,” which the borough asserts it is.

“This would be based on the considerably low returns, harvests, and reduced size of Sockeye salmon in the commercial drift and set net gillnet commercial salmon fishing industry as a result of the devastating 2020 UCI sockeye salmon fishery and to implement a recovery plan to benefit the commercial drift and set gillnet fishery industry in the borough,” the memo reads.

According to the resolution, 959,802 fish were commercially harvested in the 2020 commercial salmon fishery for the Upper Subdivision of the Central District of Cook Inlet, which is the lowest harvest for the region since 1971. Additionally, it is about 67% less than the 10-year average of over 2.9 million fish.

Additionally, the weight at age of the 2020 individual sockeye salmon, the most valuable of the five species of Pacific salmon in Upper Cook Inlet, was one pound less, on average, than 10 years ago. The combined drift and set net commercial sockeye harvest of 579,068 fish were also worth about 45% less than the previous 10-year average ex-vessel value.

“These fisherman were getting hammered in three ways right there: one, they didn’t catch very many of the primary target species, sockeye; of those sockeye that they did catch they were smaller than they normally are; and then the price went to pot,” said assembly member Brent Johnson, who sponsored the legislation along with Pierce.

Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman put some of the blame on how the fishery is managed, specifically citing the siphoning of fish away from the peninsula, which he said has harmed the local economy.

“Commercial fisheries had the worst year they’ve had in decades … and that’s not OK,” Bjorkman said. “The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon fishery, as well as the mixed stock fishery in general can support multiple user groups if we choose to support them.”

Copies of the resolution were sent to U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, U.S. Rep. Don Young and Dunleavy in addition to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

More in News

Richard Derkevorkian speaks at a borough and district work session on Tuesday, March 2 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough, district step toward compromise

The board reviewed their initial request and agreed to approach the borough with a new, lower request of $50 million.

A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
More than 20% of peninsula residents have at least 1 vaccine dose

Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout

(Photo provided by Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Applications to bait refuge black bears now available

Application requests and submissions will be done via phone or email due to COVID-19

John O’Brien remotely addresses the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, February 2, 2021. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough, district to hold 2nd budget work session Tuesday

The meeting can be streamed live via Zoom or on the district’s media page

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink address members of the media during a remote press conference on Monday, March 1 in Alaska. (Screenshot)
State to receive 8,900 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout

Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
School district looks ahead to potential COVID cases following spring break

Three COVID variants had been detected in Alaska as of last Wednesday

Judy Cavanaugh stands with others at a rally against the Pebble Mine in front of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Juneau office in June 2019.  The Army Corps of Engineers has accepted a request for administrative appeal filed by Pebble Limited Partnership. A similar effort by the state was reject, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a news release. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
2 Pebble appeals, 2 different outcomes

Governor says states appeal rejected, but partnership appeal moves forward.

Most Read