Jeremy Kromray felt his fisherman's career begin to fizzle in 2002.
He received half of his normal crew share from seining for salmon in Southeast waters. In desperation, he pitched himself at some of the riskier commercial fishing jobs in Alaska.
Now, the 25-year-old Juneau resident is enrolled in college, basically tuition-free, with an planned emphasis in government affairs. He still keeps a hand in the seining business. But these days, Kromray said, he can afford to be more picky.
"I don't ever plan to fully get out of fishing. I'm even considering going back year-round if the right opportunity comes around," said Kromray, who works part time for the United Fishermen of Alaska, an industry advocacy group.
Kromray didn't win the lottery. He got his break from the federal government. Trade Adjustment Assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping some Alaska salmon fishermen through tough years.
It's the second year of the program and 2,000 Southeast fishermen and thousands more throughout Alaska could qualify for cash or education benefits in 2005.
Up to $10,000 in direct aid, training in marketing wild salmon and other vocational benefits are available to those who saw a decline in their net Alaska salmon income from 2001 to 2003 because of competition from farmed salmon. The application deadline is Jan. 13.
Mark Vinsel, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said seiners are poised for the biggest payout among the fleets because of their high-volume fishery.
"There is a disparity in how much money people get," he said.
Applying for aid can be frustrating for fishermen, who often have complex income tax returns. The Farm Service Agency is sponsoring training workshops throughout Alaska. A workshop will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday at the Juneau Job Service Center on Glacier Highway.
Proving a decline in net income can be tricky. Kromray didn't receive money the first time he applied for aid because of an income tax snafu, but he was able to appeal with help from a certified public accountant. He later received $4,000.
Salmon fishermen and their crew can expect a 3.1-cents-per-pound price adjustment on their 2003 season catch if they can prove their income declined from 2001 to 2003, Vinsel said.
Strong participation by fishermen in the program this winter could help stimulate UFA's efforts in lobbying for a better trade assistance program "designed by and for fishermen," Vinsel added. UFA hopes to include its proposal in upcoming reauthorization of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
The Farm Service Agency - which typically assists farmers - is administering the aid program out of its state headquarters in Palmer.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.