Public officials on the Kenai Peninsula have asked Gov. Tony Knowles to consider expanding his fishery disaster declaration to include those hurt by this year's poor Cook Inlet red salmon returns.
A letter was sent Tuesday to request financial assistance. The letter was signed by state legislators Gail Phillips, Hal Smalley, Gary Davis and John Torgerson, and Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster and Kenai Mayor John Williams.
``The families and businesses dependent on fishing for their survival do not have enough money to live on, let alone make current payments on their gear or even get them through the winter,'' the letter reads.
Drew Sparlin, a Kenai commercial driftnetter, said this was his worst year in more than 30 years of fishing.
``We had a very, very small run and low prices,'' he said. ``We had 1970s prices with 2000 expenses. We got less for our fish than we did then, and at that time, we were paying 15 to 20 cents per gallon for diesel.''
He said he feels sorry for fishermen trying to support families and make payments on boats and permits.
``I would certainly think it would be fair to call this a disaster,'' he said.
Phillips and her co-signers estimated that 80 percent of Cook Inlet fishermen failed to cover their operating expenses this year. They said the disaster affects processors and fishing-related businesses, too.
The letter predicted disastrous impacts on gear suppliers, engine repair shops, fuel suppliers, banks and insurance companies.
A second letter sent Wednesday by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican whose district includes parts of the peninsula, said they believe the failure of the Cook Inlet run warrants an economic disaster declaration similar to one Knowles issued July 19 for western Alaska.
Bob King, Knowles' press secretary, said Knowles was traveling and had not seen the letters. He was aware of them, though, and the disaster team has discussed them.
``I know they will look into Cook Inlet, just as they are looking into requests from other areas,'' he said.
Knowles has received requests to include the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Metlakatla, the Bristol Bay Borough, the Aleutians East Borough and Iliamna Lake villages of the Lake and Peninsula Borough in the disaster area.