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Federal disaster designation declared for Alaska pink salmon fisheries

After a pitiful return of pink salmon to much of Alaska last summer, a federal disaster declaration was officially announced Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the declaration as one of one of nine determined for West Coast fisheries this year.

Federal disaster declarations don't come with a guarantee of funds. Congress must now appropriate funds for disaster relief to affected communities.

Gov. Bill Walker requested a declaration for the fishery in September. In his letter to Pritzker, Walker cited the abysmal harvest of pink salmon in Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik and lower Cook Inlet management areas. A second version of the letter was sent in October, adding Southeast to the list.

According to the letter, harvest opportunities were significantly reduced as a result of poor returns. In Kodiak, much of the area remained closed for 70 percent of the season.

Only 3.2 million fish were harvested in the Kodiak management area, approximately 20 percent of the average catch over the last five years.

Just 12.1 million pinks were harvested in the Sound, far below the five-year average of 39 million fish.

Walker's letter also tallied 97,000 pinks for the lower Inlet, 13 percent of the fish forecast to return. The region's 2016 catch was valued at $78,000, far below the five-year average value of $501,000.

"The impacts of low pink salmon runs are being felt across the Gulf of Alaska," Walker said in an emailed statement regarding the disaster declaration.

"In addition to commercial fisherman and fish processors, those who sell fuel, tackle, supplies, groceries and lodging are also struggling," he said in the statement. "Local governments will also feel the burden on their economic base. We are pleased with this news from the U.S. Department of Commerce and we will work with the federal government going forward to address this issue."

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