Kodiak will not have any ferry service from Jan. 11 to April 24, according to the schedule released Thursday by the Alaska Marine Highway System.
The last ferry out of the communities until the summer ferry service is Jan. 11 for Ouzinkie and Port Lions, Sept. 12 for Old Harbor and Sept. 28 for Dutch Harbor.
In addition, the ferry system will begin a dynamic pricing system, increasing ticket prices for ferries that are mostly booked as well as for the four days before and after special events or holidays, according to a Department of Transportation press release.
The ferry system also will increase fees for reservation changes as the scheduled travel date approaches. Fees will increase $20 up to two weeks before departure, $50 two weeks to three days before departure and $100 within three days of departure.
“When there is high demand, fares increase during those times,” said Meadow Bailey, Department of Transportation communications director. “This is an attempt to increase revenue and become a more self-sustaining system.”
The gap in service may prove disastrous to local fish processing companies trying to get their goods off the island, said Ocean Beauty Seafoods Plant Manager James Turner.
In past years, after processors stopped being able to use Alaska Airlines combination planes, they began to rely heavily on the ferry system to export their fresh seafood.
Decrease in winter ferry service in the past has never been enough to hinder business — until now, Turner said.
“It really limits us when they shut down the ferry system,” he said.
The processors cannot export fish shipments on the barges, because the shipments will not arrive at their destinations on time, which means processors will have to depend on planes with limited space.
“Whoever calls first gets the space,” Turner said.
In previous years fish processors used Alaska Airlines combination planes — aircrafts that carry both freight and passengers. Since 2016, when Alaska Air discontinued combi flights, they began to rely heavily on the ferry system.
Cutting winter service on the ferry also will affect people moving vehicles and freight on and off the island, said Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer.
“There’s no way to get from Kodiak to the mainland unless you fly,” he said. “In those time periods, it would be easier and cheaper to move to Seattle than to the rest of Alaska for someone living in Kodiak.”
As the only transportation in and out of Kodiak’s rural communities such as Ouzinkie, Port Lions and Old Harbor, residents will have to use planes, which can be unreliable, or boats, which can be dangerous in winter, said Matthew Jones, the mayor of Ouzinkie.
“It does have an effect on the community. A lot of the folks here use the ferry to go to Kodiak to get groceries. If the ferry is not available, people have to fly, which adds a considerable cost,” he said.
Jones said he does not understand why the M/V Tustumena and the M/V Kennicott are going in for repairs at the same time, as is stated in the draft winter ferry schedule.
“They could stagger the maintenance,” he said.
Historically, ferry service has been cut due to overhauls and mechanical issues, but this year both vessels are in overhaul at the same time because of budget constraints, said Kodiak City Mayor Pat Branson.
Branson sits on the Alaska Marine Highway Transportation Board.
The limited schedule is due to a $43 million reduction in marine highway budget — a $31% decrease from previous fiscal years, according to the press release.
An amendment to put $5 million back into the marine highway budget was passed by the Legislature, but vetoed by the governor.
Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) who introduced the amendment to add $5 million back into the budget, said the governor did not listen to the concerns of rural Alaskans.
“It’s crippling to rural Alaska,” she said. “I don’t know if (the governor) even considers rural Alaska part of Alaska with some of the effects of his cuts have made in relation to rural Alaska.”
After the original draft winter schedule was released, the Department of Transportation held a public comment period. Many people said the ferry system is the only affordable way to go grocery shopping, visit the hospital, and transport goods and services.
“There’s a reason why we choose to live here; coastal communities and our community should not be punished for living where we want to live. It’s just not right,” she said.