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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