In Wake of WA Fishing Disaster Declarations, Cantwell & Murray Announce $300 Million in Economic Relief for Fishing Families

and Alaska-based crab fisheries have lost an estimated $287.7 million due to harvest cancellations Disaster declared on Friday after Cantwell and Murray wrote a letter to speed federal assistance for crab fisheries

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that $300 million for disaster assistance for fishing families impacted by cancelled crab and salmon harvests will be included in the final version of the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

In November, Senators Cantwell and Murray joined Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in a bipartisan letter calling on Sec. Gina Raimondo to declare a fishery disaster, which is required before the Department of Commerce can begin distributing disaster funding. Last week, the Department of Commerce declared federal fishery disasters for several recent Washington state salmon harvests and Alaskan crab harvests. Hundreds of commercial and Tribal fishermen in Washington state could be eligible for the $300 million in appropriated funds.

“This legislation will bring financial relief to Washington state fishing families and Tribes in that rely on Alaska crab and salmon harvests to make ends meet. This funding will support direct payments to fishing families, habitat restoration, and the science needed to understand crab and salmon stock declines to help protect fishing jobs, and our oceans, in the future,” said Sen. Cantwell. “I will continue work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that our fishing families, seafood businesses, and communities are able to access these as soon as possible.”

“Families across Washington state rely on crab and salmon harvests to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads. I am glad that Secretary Raimondo listened when we asked her and the administration to help ensure our fisheries could be eligible for federal relief. I fought hard to secure this emergency funding in our appropriations bill and I am going to do everything I can to make sure we pass an end-of-year funding package to get help to the fisherman and small businesses that need it,” said Sen. Murray.

The Department of Commerce recently announced federal fishery disasters for the following harvests:

  1. 2021/2022 Alaska Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Bering Sea Snow Crab Fisheries
  2. 2019 Washington Columbia River, Willapa Bay, Puget Sound Salmon Fisheries
  3. 2020 Washington Ocean Salmon Fisheries
  4. 2021 Alaska Kuskokwim River Salmon and Norton Sound Chum and Coho Salmon Fisheries
  5. 2021 Chignik Salmon Fisheries
  6. 2020 Copper River/Prince William Sound Coho and Pink Salmon Fisheries
  7. 2020/2021 Alaska Norton Sound Red King Crab Fisheries
  8. 2022/2023 Alaska Bristol Bay Red King Crab and Bering Sea Snow Crab Fisheries

Cancellations of the 2022/2023 Bering Sea snow crab, the 2022/2023 Bristol Bay red king crab, and the 2021/2022 Bristol Bay red king crab harvests have caused an estimated $287.7 million in economic losses for fisheries.

Poor salmon returns for the 2019 Columbia River, Willipa Bay, and Puget Sound Fisheries resulted in ex-vessel values, which is the value of the commercial catch, for Washington’s statewide salmon fisheries of 37 percent compared to the recent five-year average. In certain areas, fisheries saw reductions in salmon returns of over 65 percent of the five-year average.

Cancellations of the 2020 Washington Ocean Salmon Fisheries, which impacted non-Tribal ocean catch quotas for Chinook and coho salmon, resulted in revenue losses of 50 percent based on preliminary data. For the ocean salmon troll fishery, the total ex-vessel value was $1.1 million, which is 46 percent of the average from the previous five years.

State Governors, Tribes, or a representative of an affected fishing community can apply to receive disaster funding through the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fishery Disaster Assistance program. After a the Secretary of Commerce declares a federal fisheries disaster, and the Congress appropriates funding, impacted fishing families, associated businesses, and others may apply to NOAA or fish commission for financial relief.

The final omnibus legislation also includes the Fishery Resource Disaster Improvement Act, which was reintroduced in March of 2021. The bill would make improvements to NOAA’s Fishery Resource Disaster Relief program of the National Marine Fisheries Service and speed up the process for Tribes, fishing families and associated businesses to receive disaster relief. The bill would also expand eligible uses of disaster funding, to ensure Washington state priorities such as hatchery infrastructure, job training, and habitat restoration are eligible. It would also cut red tape to help Tribes receive funding directly from the federal government.

The full text of Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Murray’s letter to Sec. Raimondo is available HERE.

To apply for Fishery Disaster Assistance, go HERE.