Ketchikan, Alaska (KINY) - The Ketchikan Gateway Borough passed an economic disaster resolution regarding the fishing industry on Monday.
The resolution declares an economic disaster in Southeast Alaska due to fishery losses during the 2020 season and recommends Gov. Mike Dunleavy declare Southeast Alaska an area impacted by an economic disaster, and requests the Alaska Congressional delegation to seek and support an appropriation to provide aid.
According to the borough, the fishing industry in Ketchikan represents a substantial portion of the private sector economy, second only to the cruise industry.
The federal and state emergency declarations issued in early 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant shutdowns were economically damaging to Ketchikan and other Southeast Alaska communities.
On the heels of a financially difficult spring, the salmon fisheries in Southeast Alaska have experienced a disastrous season with the lowest volume of landings in many decades. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the 2020 Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest, forecasted at an already low 12 million fish, recently concluded with an estimated 5.6 million fish harvested, the lowest harvest level since 1976 and the fifth-lowest since statehood.
The troll fishery indicates a total of 658,200 Coho salmon landed since July 1, 2020, a catch total down 23 percent from 2019 and down 46 percent from the 5-year averages.
Further, the region's overall common property purse seine harvest was poor with fewer than 1.5 million chum salmon harvested to date, the lowest harvest in 30 years, and the poor harvest caused hatchery operators to cease or limit common property and/or cost recovery harvests to obtain broodstock.
The historically low harvest levels were coupled with worldwide markets for seafood having been greatly impacted by the pandemic, resulting in ex-vessel prices for all salmon species plummeting. The combined effect of low harvest levels and diminished market prices has left the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in a significantly damaged economic condition, and with a gravely difficult winter ahead due to it being a period of traditionally low economic activity.
The unemployment rate as of July 2020 is 12.7 percent, and high unemployment rates are also felt across Southeast Alaska in neighboring communities like Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, and Petersburg, and even exceeding the statewide average by nearly 20 percent.
Absent a declaration of economic disaster and the provision of economic aid to support the battered fishing industry, the industry in Ketchikan Gateway Borough and all of Southeast Alaska faces the risk of contraction through business failures.
Similar measures calling for a declaration of an economic disaster have been adopted elsewhere in Southeast Alaska, including the communities of Petersburg and Wrangell.