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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Economic Impacts of Alaska Salmon Fishery Failures and Federal Relief

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Spring 2015
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In 2010-12, Chinook salmon runs in several areas of Alaska fell well below expected levels.  Commercial, sport, and subsistence Chinook salmon fisheries in affected areas were curtailed, and harvests of other more abundant salmon species were also limited.  Commercial and subsistence fisheries for Chinook salmon and co-occurring salmon species on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers were restricted.  In Cook Inlet, emergency orders closed commercial set gillnetting for much of the 2012 season.  Additionally, sport fisheries for Chinook salmon in fresh and salt waters were restricted.  As a result many Alaskans in the Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Cook Inlet regions who rely on commercial, recreational, or subsistence salmon fisheries have been adversely affected.

The reason for poor Chinook salmon runs is unknown.  A number of physical and biological factors can explain the low runs of Chinook salmon.  The strengths of the salmon runs can depend on the fluctuations in the survival of Chinook salmon smolts. It is believed that juvenile salmon survival can be affected by environmental conditions such as precipitation, air and ocean temperatures, and water currents.  More research is needed to better understand the primary factors that caused the low salmon runs.

In response to the recent low Chinook salmon runs, the Governor of Alaska requested fishery disaster determinations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) for commercial and subsistence fisheries on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and for  commercial and sport fisheries in the Cook Inlet region.  In September 2012 the Secretary of Commerce determined that a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster did exist for those three regions.   In August 2014, NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region announced the approval of the first round of fisheries disaster relief applications in the amount of $7.8 million to assist fishermen affected by the 2012 commercial fisheries failure for the Yukon Chinook fishery, Kuskokwim Chinook fishery, and the Cook Inlet salmon fishery.

The direct payments for the commercial fishermen were $3.2 million for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region and $4.6 million for the Cook Inlet Region.  These were allocated to the regions in proportion to estimates of the relative aggregate losses in ex-vessel revenues caused by the disaster in the two regions.  However, the allocation of disaster relief payments are calculated based only on gross receipts to permit holders, not on their net income levels, and omits compensation for lost incomes to crew members, input suppliers in affected communities, and processors in the communities.

Using a social accounting matrix (SAM) model, the present study calculates the net regional employment and income impacts of the commercial salmon fishery failures from the low salmon runs, taking into account the effects of federal fishery disaster funds received by commercial fishermen.  Results indicate that with federal relief funds, the net adverse economic impacts are smaller than without the relief funds, but that estimates of foregone ex-vessel revenue alone, which were used to determine the amount of relief funds to commercial fishermen, provide an incomplete description of the distribution of economic losses.  This study also indicates that a model such as a SAM model is valuable tool for policy makers in identifying the stakeholder groups who should be compensated for their lost income and in calculating the amount of the relief funds to be allocated to each of the groups.  We summarized the results from this study, and completed a paper which will be submitted to a scientific journal.

By Chang Seung and Ben Muse



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