Wednesday, December 4, 2019

More Delays and a Possible End in Sight for Humpy Disaster Relief Payments

A legislator from Kodiak, Alaska, is urging the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to start distributing crew shares in the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon disaster sooner than later.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, acknowledges the issue of a systemic underreporting of applications for crew compensation but says that, in her opinion, that is due more to a poorly designed process than pervasive dishonesty or omissions among permit holders.

“The most serious issues seem to be a direct symptom of the application, appeal and distribution process running in sequential order instead of congruently,” Stutes said in a late November letter to ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, “or to put it simply, committing to funding before you have the necessary information.”

The most recent delay of payments is hardly the first, she noted. “Now, shortly before Christmas and after over three years of waiting, ADF&G is asking permit holders to wait at least an additional three months,” she told Vincent-Lang. “My constituents have already made significant budgeting and tax decisions, shipyard appointments, or simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Stutes proposed that more ADF&G staff be prioritized from elsewhere in the agency to review crew applications for disaster relief. Where no red flags exist and a normal number of crew are listed in a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permit application, contact the crew, confirm what is on the application and barriers discrepancies, and put those applications in the approved pile, she said. Her point, she told Vincent-Lang, is that waiting until Jan. 31 to get the information needed from crew “seems like a very hands-off approach to a problem that warrants a full-scale response from the department.”

Vincent-Lang acknowledged in his response concerns over receiving only a two-thirds response by the initial deadline of applications to CFEC permit holders for disaster relief funds. He said ADF&G also heard from some crew members with concerns about the accuracy of crew share information submitted on a CFEC permit holder’s application. He said Stutes’ suggestions would be considered, and that ADF&G would work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to determine if they can expedite the collection of crew information.

The situation is also complicated by the payout amounts being calculated without differentiating between the catch in drift gillnet, where the humpy catch is not high, and the seine fisheries, where most humpies were caught.

In Prince William Sound, a good portion of the fleet started out as drift gillnetters, but also bought seiner permits to diversify, noted Chelsea Haisman, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. If a gillnet permit holder caught a low number of humpies in that fishery in one or more years, and then seined in 2016, when the overall harvest of pinks was very low, that harvester couldn’t show enough loss to qualify for disaster aid.

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