Some charter sports fishermen have reported losing millions of dollars after tourists canceled their trips to Kodiak this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, but more federal relief funding may soon come their way.
The state of Alaska released a fishery relief funding draft plan on Monday that outlines the distribution of money to fishery participants across various sectors in the industry. The plan became available to the public for review and comment on Oct. 5 and will remain open until Oct. 19.
Alaska will receive $50 million of the $300 million in assistance, which will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
One charter business owner who may apply for funding is Chris Fiala, owner of Kodiak Island Charters.
During a typical year, Kodiak Island Charters hosts about 2,000 tourists who come to the island to live out their fishing dreams. Fiala said that this year his business was down by 80%.
He stayed afloat with federal assistance, as well as help from Kodiak’s small business grant program funded by the CARES Act. Through the program, the Kodiak Economic Development Corp. distributed $3.5 million in grants to struggling businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the plan, sports charter fishermen, harvesters and seafood processors are each slated to receive 32% of the funds, while subsistence and aquaculture sectors will receive 1% and 3% respectively.
Processing, commercial, sport and aquaculture participants will be eligible for the funding if they can prove they incurred pandemic-related economic losses greater than 35% from March 1 to Nov. 1. The revenue losses will be calculated by comparing average annual gross revenue during those same months from 2015 to 2019.
Eligible commercial fishermen will receive one share per fishery permit. According to the draft plan, permits fished by a fisherman in 2020 other than the holder will be split in half for the permit holder and the applicant who fished the permit.
Subsistence fishermen may also be eligible for funding if they can certify that their ability to subsistence fish was negatively impacted — directly or indirectly — by COVID-19.
“When it first came out, the recommendations were to give only 5% to the sport fishery and that didn’t seem to be too equitable,” said Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak). “I was glad to see the change in the distribution to the sport fishery.”
She said she is concerned for the processors in relation to the funds they have spent mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in plants across coastal Alaska.
“There is another bucket of available funding I'm hopeful will go towards helping make the processing whole again after the millions they spent trying to protect our communities,” Stutes said.
Seafood processors have spent an estimated $50 million to date on pandemic mitigation, including the inshore and offshore sectors, according to an Alaska Seafood COVID-19 brief prepared on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute by the McDowell Group.
The brief said that this total is expected to increase due to testing requirements and continuation of COVID-19 related protocols through the next year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must approve the spending plan before funding can be distributed. The draft spending plan can be found on the Department of Fish and Game's home page or on the Alaska Public Notice System (notice.alaska.gov/199692). Once the plan is finalized, fishery participants may then apply for assistance.