Alaska Legislature Boosts Available Injury Payouts from Fishermen’s Fund

Image: State of Alaska.

Alaska legislators have boosted from $10,000 to $15,000 the maximum payout allowed for crew injuries and disablement via the state’s Fishermen’s Fund.

The fund, which predates statehood, is administered by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It’s considered an emergency fund payer of last resort.

The $5,000 upgrade to the fund was contained in Senate Bill 92, which was approved by legislators on April 4.

Clay Bezenek, a commercial salmon and herring gillnetter in Ketchikan, who serves on the board, said that demands on the fund are fewer than they used to be because commercial boat owners are more likely these days to carry medical insurance to cover crew members.

He also said the board supports any legislation that modernizes the fund, recalling the days when the maximum payout was $2,500, before legislators raised it to $10,000.

As long as the injured crew member fills out the paperwork to pay for medical bills correctly and in a timely manner, the payment request is approved, Bezenek said.

The board is charged with dealing with appeals and denials. Problems have occurred more often in the past when an injured crew member either filled the application out incorrectly or waited too long to file a claim.

However, Bezenek said the board has worked to change regulations to allow crew more time to fill out the paperwork.

The fund itself is financed by commercial harvesters’ license and permit fees. Fiscal notes submitted for legislators’ review noted that the increased maximum payouts would incur no new cost to the state Labor Department.

The new legislation includes a provision allowing the Fishermen’s Fund to approve payments for costs of treating viral infections, including COVID-19. Common colds, influenza, rheumatism, arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases such as bursitis, traumatic sciatica and tenosynovitis directly caused by or aggravated by fishing, would be excluded. The legislation also boosts maximum payouts to vessel owners for coverage of insurance deductibles for injured and sick crew.