Gov. Sean Parnell is requesting that a federal disaster declaration be issued for upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries because of very weak chinook salmon runs, which he said have left sport and commercial fishermen facing substantial economic losses. The governor presented his request Thursday in a letter to Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank. A federal disaster declaration does not bring automatic assistance. A federal appropriation will be needed to provide funds.
"The chinook sport fishery is one of the principal economic drivers for the local and regional economy, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors and supporting guided fishing ventures and lodges. These members of the fishing community suffered substantial losses as a direct result of the decline of the Kenai chinook salmon run," the governor's letter said.
It goes on to say that the economic impacts from this summer's dismal return of chinook salmon to Alaska's rivers are being felt by commercial fishermen, sport guides and fish processors, and the people in numerous associated businesses selling everything from tackle to groceries to lodging.
"I cannot overstate the importance of fisheries to the economy of the upper Cook Inlet region," the letter said.
Fishermen dealt with severe restrictions and then fishing closures this summer because of weak runs in numerous rivers in Southcentral Alaska. Figures cited in the governor's letter suggest that the Kenai River's east-side commercial setnet fishermen lost nearly 90 percent of their normal annual income when that fishery was restricted and closed.
Fishermen of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in Southwestern Alaska also faced weak chinook salmon returns this summer. The governor in July asked for a disaster declaration for fishermen in that region.
Parnell and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell announced in July that a team was being formed to look at the problem of declining king runs throughout Alaska and make recommendations to bring more of the fish back to rivers to spawn. Parnell said he wants the team's reports and recommendations by the fall.