Alaska in Brief

Alaska, Washington senators team up to seek disaster declaration for closed crab harvests

By: - November 17, 2022 7:12 pm
A red king crab is seen in the water at Kodiak in 2005. (Photo by David Csepp/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

A red king crab is seen in the water at Kodiak in 2005. Because of collapsed stocks, federal and state managers last month closed the 2022-23 season harvests of Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab. For red king crab, it is the second consecutive year of harvest closure; for snow crab, it is the first-ever complete harvest closure. (Photo by David Csepp/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Alaska’s two Republican U.S. senators joined with Washington state’s two Democratic U.S. senators on Thursday to request an immediate disaster declaration to help fishers and fishing-dependent businesses and communities cope with an unprecedented shutdown of Bering Sea crab fishing.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington sent the request to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The senators asked the secretary to act “as quickly as possible” to invoke the disaster declaration provision of the primary law governing marine fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

“Many of these fishermen and businesses hail from both Alaska and Washington, and the impacts of these fishery disasters extend far beyond our states to consumers across the United States and the world,” the senators’ letter said.

The State of Alaska puts the estimated loss of ex-vessel value – the amount paid directly to fishers for their catches – at $287.7 million, the senators’ letter said. 

But the losses go beyond that, affecting seafood processors, gear suppliers and other businesses, the letter said: “Red king crab and snow crab are highly valued commodities traded internationally and relied upon by businesses that advertise these specialty foods at their restaurants and shops. Yet, the longer the disaster declaration and funding process takes, the greater the impact on our fishermen who are already facing incredibly difficult decisions that could include closing their businesses or filing for bankruptcy this year.”

A collapse of those stocks prompted state and federal officials last month to fully close the 2022-23 season harvests of Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab.

For the snow crab harvest, it was the first complete closure ever imposed, though the 2021-22 season was significantly curtailed because of low stocks. For red king crab, it marks the second consecutive harvest closure.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent a similar disaster-declaration request to Raimondo about three weeks ago. At the same time, Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro to appropriate $250 million in disaster relief aid in an end-of-year appropriations bill.

The senators, in their letter sent on Thursday, said that getting a speedy disaster declaration is “a key step needed before the Congress can secure funding for aid to impacted communities.”

A previously submitted disaster declaration request for the poor 2021-22 Bering Sea snow crab harvest is already pending.

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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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