Alaska Legislature Boosts Payouts Available 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 and is considered an emergency fund payer of last resort. The maximum payout amount was boosted in April.

Clay Bezenek, a commercial salmon and herring gillnetter in Ketchikan who serves on the Labor and Workforce Development board, noted 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 their crew.

Bezenek said the board supports any legislation that modernizes the fund. He recalled 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 request for payment 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 for compensation.

Bezenek said the board has worked to change regulations to allow crew more time to fill out the paperwork, so the fund can do its job.

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, and also boosts maximum payouts to vessel owners for coverage of insurance deductibles for inured and sick crew.