As winter releases its icy grip on coastal Alaska, the natural inclination of many is to get ready for fishing season. This year, with travel restrictions in place and social distancing all the rage, the season for both fishermen and processors looks precarious from the perspective of District P Senator Gary Stevens. His district includes the ports of Kodiak, Cordova and Homer. He spoke with KBBI’s Jay Barrett.
KBBI — Pretty soon folks are going to be gearing up for commercial fishing in your district here, in Kodiak, all around. What are the outlooks for managing commercial fisheries and the influx of people during this time of Covid-19?
Stevens — Well, of course, Jay that's a really problematic. We have just in the senate at least added another million dollars into the fishing game budget for management to make sure that the fishing game has the crew they need to to manage the fishery. So there would have been slighted over the last few years, there's been sort of more to put money into sport fishing and less in the commercial. So I think that rectifies that a little bit that million dollars will be really helpful to the department to make sure they have the manpower they need to they need to manage the fisheries. I am concerned of course about about the, well not only the fisherman of course making sure they have the crews they need but also the processors and making sure they have the employees they they need to, to manage their fisheries as it moves ahead. You know, halibut, the price is considerably less this year so far. And some fishermen have been told that that the price could go even lower or that maybe there wasn't even a market for halibut for example. So, for watching that close, we want to make sure that those markets stay strong. I have talked to some processors to make sure I knew what was going on and and for example, in the Seattle market, they've lost most of their restaurant business but they have picked up of course in the in the grocery store business. So they're doing more more more fish more fish products going into into retail market rather than into into the restaurant business. So I think they're adjusting. The problem of course are facing is having the crews to manage the the processing plants as they move along. You know, Kodak is pretty fortunate to have resident based employees and then folks there that have always worked in the industry and live in Kodiak. So it's less of a problem there. It's more of a problem when you get out to the smaller communities along the chain, for example, where they have to bring in processing employees from outside, either outside the community or maybe even outside the state. So that's a concern because as you have more outsiders coming into Alaska from from Seattle, they could easily bring that the Covid-19 with them. So they're really concerned about how does the fisheries survive this virus attack?
KBBI — Along the lines are any rules or anything being promulgated to, you know, ... Well, the governor's already asked everybody coming in to the state to go into self quarantine. I can't imagine 5, 000 cannery workers finding a place in Anchorage to wait for two weeks.
Stevens — Well, that's true. And even if they get them out to some of the very rural sites where they're living in bunk houses, that's, that's no place to look to avoid contact with with coronavirus, either. So it is problematic. I'm not even sure that we can order or folks not to come into Alaska. That's an issue that we are still dealing with. Do we have a power? You know, there is concerned, certainly about how does the processing industry continue? It's going to be difficult. And then of course, they're all based on the market. What is the market? And is there still a market for now for halibuty, and will it be (for) pollock certainly and will it be later for salmon when that when that really hits, you know, coming up here soon. So, yeah, there's a lot of questions out there. If I were a fisherman or I were a seafood processor I'd be very concerned about the future.