2020 Commercial Salmon Fisheries Being Debated

Discussions are underway at the government level, as well as with the processing and harvesting sectors of Alaska’s commercial salmon fisheries on how to proceed this summer in the midst of a pandemic.

On one side are processors and harvesters who feel that with strict protocols in place the fisheries can proceed while assuring the health and safety of the communities where the fish is processed and of those engaged in every aspect of these fisheries. On the other side are people who live in these communities who recall the 1918–1919 Spanish flu pandemic that wiped out a substantial portion of the population, leaving hundreds of children orphaned.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a news teleconference on Tuesday, April 14, that the state is trying to determine if there is a way these fisheries can be conducted in a manner that will protect the workers and people who live in these communities. The governor acknowledged that the fisheries have a huge economic impact on the state, but noted that every community is different so there are various levels of discussion going on.

Processors have sent several letters to their fishermen and communities outlining details on protocols they would expect everyone to follow for the safety of all workers and residents of communities. They have issued detailed advisories to those coming to work for them on hand hygiene, encouraged them to get vaccinated against the flu and noting that all individuals joining on-going vessel or shoreside plan operations will be screened.

Temperature taking and individual interviews are to be conducted at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, before these workers are allowed to depart for remote processor sites.

Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said that the BBRSDA is working with community officials and industry representatives to develop options for safe operation of the fishery for the health and safety of residents as well as the fleet and industry partners.

“The BBRSDA does not and cannot control individual fishermen or direct their operations, but we strongly advise all members of the fleet to strictly adhere to local, state, and federal guidelines in regards to quarantine requirements and all other health and safety measures,” he said.

Meanwhile community leaders in Dillingham, in Bristol Bay’s Nushagak district, have asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy to consider closing down the Bristol Bay fishery because of the grave risk to the region’s limited health care facilities. So far Dunleavy says he has no plans for closures.