Alaska’s Commercial Harvesters Listed as ‘Critical Infrastructure’

Plans are in progress to conduct the multi-million dollar Bristol Bay salmon fishery this summer in a manner that keeps harvesters, processors and the seafood itself safe in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone is working on it on a regular basis,” said Norm Van Vactor of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, Alaska. “It is literally a plan in progress. We are moving forward with a positive attitude (but) nobody is in La La Land.”

Commercial fishermen are now officially identified as “critical infrastructure” by the state of Alaska. That means that fishing preparations and activities in Bristol Bay are cleared to continue, but under various safety protocols aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic coronavirus in the state, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) told its members this past week.
Those planning to travel to Alaska through May 1 are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival at their final destination. Those traveling within Alaska, between now and May 1, do not have to submit a plan to the state at this time.

The BBRSDA is currently waiting for more direction from the state. Meanwhile the association is working with community leaders and processors to develop safety protocols pertaining to public and industry health. They are advising the drift gillnet fleet to use best practices for personal health and safety and to think about how they will personally protect themselves, their crew and the Bristol Bay communities they will pass through.

The BBRSDA said it is possible that the association will be allowed to submit a “blanket plan” on behalf of Bristol Bay fishermen. The association has been working on what that looks like and what information the state would require in such a document.

They are advising fishermen that if they cannot follow its protocols or need to incorporate other details they would need to submit their own plan, listing their crewmembers into the plan and protocols.

Meanwhile the association has advised all harvesters coming to Bristol Bay to practice social distancing, to wash hands frequently, avoid touching faces while in common areas, and cover coughs with their upper arm.

Complete guidelines are posted on the association’s website,