During the 2018 Pacific cod disaster, Kodiak skipper Eddie Perez lost 30-40% of his annual income because of a shortened fishing season. This would have meant dire consequences for him if it weren’t for the successful salmon season later that year.
The situation was made worse when he needed to fix his boat after fishing for crab in January, further shortening a cod season during which the allowable catch was reduced by 80% compared to the previous year.
With “more quota, the longer the season is … I could have been fixed up, and gone fishing right away” if the 2018 quota had been larger.
Perez is the captain of the F/V Caporal, which he owns with his father, another longtime Kodiak fisherman. Perez has been fishing cod in Kodiak since 2001, and said the past three years have been the worst cod fishing he has seen on the island.
This includes earlier this year, when the federal Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod fishery closed because of low fish numbers, and the state fishery had a small quota compared to most other years.
Despite these setbacks, Perez could be among the fishermen to benefit from $24.4 million in federal relief granted to Pacific cod fishery participants in the Gulf of Alaska who lost income in 2018. The reduced catch limits triggered some areas in the Gulf of Alaska to close to fishing, while other areas that were open had poor fishing, drastically reducing the value of the fisheries.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced on Tuesday an opportunity for the public to comment on a draft spending plan for federal relief distribution for the 2018 disaster. The comment period will run through Aug. 14.
The draft plan outlines how the state will allocate the $24.4 million relief package, which was approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in February. Funding will be distributed among all fishery participants — from harvesters and processing plants to municipalities.
The department is seeking comment on all elements of the proposed distribution plan.
“What we have out now is basically just a starting point of discussion,” said Federal Fisheries Coordinator Karla Bush, who works for the Department of Fish and Game.
She added that the department hopes to receive feedback for different sectors on the eligibility criteria.
“People are welcome to comment on any portion of the draft,” she said.
Using feedback from the comment period, a second draft distribution plan will have an open comment period in September.
The department will use the feedback for the second draft plan to submit a final version to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries, which will write a grant. The grant will be submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for approval.
Once approved, the funds will be allocated by the Pacific states to eligible participants.
“We are hoping to have it wrapped up early this fall and then anticipating maybe up to three months … for those federal approvals,” Bush said, but noted the timeline could change. “Right now we are targeting early 2021 … but there is no certainty when the approval may occur.”
The Pacific cod fishery was officially declared a disaster in October 2019, months after the city of Kodiak, the Kodiak Island Borough and other communities in the Gulf of Alaska pressured then-governor Bill Walker to request the declaration of a fishery disaster.
According to the state, the disaster resulted from warmer-than-average ocean conditions, among other factors that reduced biomass, or fish populations, and access to the fishery.
According to a 2016 McDowell report, in 2014, the primary groundfish species — including pollock, Pacific cod, rockfish and flatfish — made up 83% of all landings in Kodiak. Pacific cod made up 15% of the total fish landings value on the island, totalling 69.5 million pounds worth $22.2 million. This was drastically cut in 2018.
In the state fishery, participation was down by more than half in 2018 for the small harvest limit compared to the year before, which was already a fraction of participation in previous years.
According to data from Fish and Game, only 20 vessels participated, compared to 48 in 2017 and 140 in 2016. The small harvest limit totalled 2.2 million pounds compared to 12 million pounds the previous year.
The draft plan for 2018 disaster relief proposes to distribute the funds between sectors with 41% of the total going to harvesters, 26% to processing facilities, 4% to communities and 30% to research. Administration will receive less than 1% of total relief aid.
The plan proposes multiple methods and criteria for allocating the funds among the fishery sectors.
For harvesters, the proposed funding will be distributed based on gear and operation type, with pot catcher vessels receiving the majority of the funds at 51%.
Pot catcher vessels must have harvested pacific cod from 2016 to 2018 totalling at least 100,000 pounds to be eligible.
The rest of the funding distributed in the harvester sector will be divided between jig vessels, 4%, longline catcher vessels, 8%, longline catcher processors, 7%, trawl catcher vessels, 29% and trawl catcher processors, 1%.
Eligible seafood processors will also receive funds. Allocation will be based on fisheries production and value data from the Commercial Operators Annual Report.
Funds designated for communities will be able to be used for managing, repairing or maintaining infrastructure, services or habitat that support Pacific cod fisheries in the region.
A portion of the funding from the disaster relief will also be used for research.
“Funds will be used for scientific research activities to better understand the effects of warming temperatures on GOA (Gulf of Alaska) Pacific cod and to improve our ability to manage the GOA Pacific cod stock in the future,” stated the plan.
The department also proposes to allocate funds for staff time dedicated to fishery disaster plan development and implementation in coordination with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Eligibility criteria and distribution of the funds within each sector will be further developed based on input from participants.
Comments may be posted online, and therefore ADF&G requests that no business proprietary information, copyrighted information or personally identifiable information be submitted in your written comments.
Comments can be submitted by email to: DFG.2018GOAPacificCod@alaska.gov, or by mail to: ADF&G, Attn: Kari Winkel, PO Box 115526, Juneau, AK 99811-5526.