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At least some of Kodiak’s fishing charter captains fear they may not be eligible for the latest round of COVID-based federal financial relief because they received financial assistance last year. Those CARES act funds, while necessary at the time, are now making it appear they may not need additional help.One of the eligibility requirements for the $50 million worth of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security act funding, which was released Monday to West Coast fisheries, requires those getting the money to show at least a 35% drop in gross revenue from March through November of last year when compared to the same period in previous years.During that time, many fishing charters applied for federal and city funding as client after client canceled their bookings because of pandemic-related travel restrictions. While the money helped keep their Kodiak small businesses afloat, the life preservers may have had some unintended consequences.Salmoncrazy Adventures charter owner Jeff Sanford said the money he received last year will make it impossible for him to show enough loss to be eligible for the latest round of funding, despite losing 75% of his business last year. “At the end of last year, we got a grant from the Kodiak Economic Development Corp., and we threw the money back into the operation,” Sanford said. “You can’t claim a 35% loss when you are spending money on the business.” To help pay the bills he currently works as a Zamboni driver and as a referee for children’s hockey games in the Delta Junction area. And while Sanford has received bookings for the upcoming summer, he said half of them are people who canceled last year and are rescheduling. That means the deposits they made for their trips — typically 50 percent of the total amount — were spent on 2020 pre-season needs. That money ended up being wasted. “For all of my pre-season expenses this year, I don’t have money to pay for them,” he said. Sanford said other charter fishing operators in Kodiak also lost as much as three-quarters of their annual revenues because of the pandemic, and the federal and city of Kodiak funding given last year helped them “scraped things together” to survive. Consider the case of Kodiak Marine Charters. As a new charter business that began operating in 2020 it does not have the historical information needed to prove that the loss of business was caused by the pandemic. Owner Lukas Bercy said he had hoped that he would receive bookings from overflow clients from other charters, which are typically at capacity and operate every day during the summer. But because many charters were in need of clients last year, his plan did not work out. “Because COVID happened and there is an excess number of cancellations, there was no overflow,” Bercy said. “Every boat in our charter fleet was available to take anybody to go fishing.”The latest disbursement of CARES act relief for Alaska’s fisheries comes from $300 million distributed nationwide for the fishing sector. The final spend plan for Alaska fishery participants, approved Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, allocated funding to various parts of the sector for fishery participants around the state.Here’s the breakdown: Aquaculture: $493,712Subsistence fishermen: $2,468,559Commercial fishermen: $17,279,916Seafood processors: $15,798,780Charter boats: $13,330,221The rest of the funding will cover administrative costs.The original spend plan allocated just 5% of the total to charter fishermen, instead of the 27% they are getting now. The change happened after the Alaska Department of Fish and Game saw a 54% reduction in nonresident sport fishing license sales through mid-October of last year compared to the same year-to-date period in 2019.In response to the draft allocation plan released in October, the state received more than 200 written comments. The finalized plan included changes to residency requirements, reduction of the time frame used to calculate losses, and clarified language throughout the plan. To calculate the allocations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which approved the state’s final draft plan, used a fisheries revenue-based approach to proportionately allocate total funding to eligible states, Tribes, and territories. Applications for funding opened Monday and are available online at the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the entity in charge of distributing the funds. Applications for subsistence users are not yet available. NOAA is currently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify potentially eligible subsistence users across Alaska. Once that is complete, applications will become available.
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