Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Disaster determination received for 2023 east side setnet fishery

Disasters have been recognized for 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo affirmed a fishery resource disaster in the 2023 Upper Cook Inlet east side setnet salmon fishery, according to a release from the National Marine Fisheries Service on Monday, June 10.

The determination by Raimondo, according to the release, is a response to a request by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. NOAA Fisheries evaluates the request based on data submitted by the official, which must meet “specific requirements” including evidence of economic impacts and an unexpected large decrease in stock or other significant change.

After this determination, the fishery is eligible for disaster assistance from NOAA, the release says, “based on the availability of Congressionally appropriated disaster funding.”

Disasters have also previously been confirmed for 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Raimondo in 2022 affirmed disasters in the 2018 Upper Cook Inlet east side setnet fishery and 2020 Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries. Earlier this year, she also affirmed disasters for the Upper Cook Inlet setnet salmon fisheries in 2021 and 2022.

In a letter attached to the latter decision, Raimondo cites “an unexpected biomass decline” and a loss of access that resulted in revenue losses of 63% in 2021 and 91% in 2022.

According to the State Department of Fish and Game, around $9.4 million was allocated in 2022 to address losses in the 2018 and 2020 seasons. A draft spending plan was last updated in May and says that around $5.8 million of the total will be disbursed to harvesters.

The plan was submitted to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in early September, which applied for the grant within a week on Sept. 11. The grant has yet to be awarded, and funds have yet to be disbursed.

The ESSN has faced significant restrictions in recent years, which culminated in a complete season closure announced months before their scheduled start in 2023. This year, the fishery is again entirely closed, but will newly be allowed to do some fishing using dipnets — which fishers say aren’t comparable to set gillnets in regard to rate and quantity of success.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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