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State: Alaska salmon disaster worse than originally thought

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

This summer, alarmingly low king salmon returns plagued Alaska. Now, according to The Associated Press (via the Albany Times-Union), Alaska's Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED), Susan Bell, says the numbers may be even worse than first estimated.

In a letter addressed to Alaska's congressional delegation, Bell reported that commercial fishery permit holders directly lost around $16.8 million in seasonal profits this summer. Bell added that that figure does not include economic effects for crew, communities, businesses or others who help harvest, process and sell fish in the state. An estimate put forth in September of direct lossses came to more than $10 million.

King runs have been well below average in recent years, especially on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

In August, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell requested a disaster declaration from U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, citing low king runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and in Upper Cook Inlet. Blank agreed and granted the disaster declaration request in Sept., moving the process to Congress to determine how much in disaster-relief funds should be granted to hard-hit fishermen in those regions.

Blank's disaster declaration will stretch back to 2010 for the Yukon and 2011 for the Kuskokwim. For Upper Cook Inlet, only this year's fishing season will be eligible.

The reasons for low king returns are not yet clear, though the state is examining possible causes. Some biologists believe the problems could be based in the ocean, rather than anything happening in Alaska waters.

For more on the salmon shortage click here and for more on the disaster relief click here.