More than two years after the 2016 pink salmon season was officially declared a disaster, things might finally be looking up for gulf fishers expecting relief payments. For months, the disaster relief plan has bounced around in federal and state bureaucracy, without a clear timeline for when it would be officially approved. And as the 2019 season ramps up, many fishermen are counting on that relief money to help them make ends meet.
Last month it looked like it was held up on the desk of the White House Office of Management and Budget, but as the process dragged on, it was revealed that the holdup actually came from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
In a phone interview, House Representative Louise Stutes said it came down to allocation questions. “There was a snafu, and the snafu was there were some questions that NOAA had, unbeknownst to the state in relation to how the local municipalities were going to participate in this. And the decision was made to move ahead and issue the applications to fishermen and processors, and deal with the local municipalities secondarily.”
In other words, in order to not hold up relief payments any more than they already have been, NOAA and the State of Alaska are putting off figuring out how cities like Kodiak will receive disaster funding, and instead are working on getting individual fishermen and processors their checks.
“I don’t know if it was a communications error or if it was a stall tactic,” Stutes said. “I don’t want to point a finger, we’re talking the feds here. You have to have every ‘t’ crossed and … maybe there was an ‘i’ that wasn’t dotted appropriately or something. They haven’t given us the particulars. What I do know is they are moving forward with the process for the fishermen and processors. They will deal with the municipalities secondarily.”
NOAA only initiates funding dispersements at the beginning of the month, according to Stutes, and because they missed the projected June 1 deadline, they’re set to go ahead on July 1. Once that last approval goes through, Stutes says the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will start reaching out to fishermen and processors to arrange payment applications. She says it will be about 30 days after that, meaning the beginning of August before check start going out the door.
She’s pretty certain they’re approaching the end of the long dragged-out process, but she still advises caution. “We’ve been told as of yesterday that it should be July 1 and there is no hold-up in sight,” she said. “But we’ve been told that for months and months and months, so don’t hold your breath and don’t spend your money until you have your check in your hand.”
Stutes says a toll-free number will be set up soon for anyone with questions about the relief funding distribution timeline, as well as an appeals process in case fishermen feel something is amiss with their payment.