North Pacific Fishing Industry Raising Money for Alaska Coast Guard Families

The Seattle Times, January 24, 2019 – 

By Hal Bernton – 

The fundraising effort was kicked off by Chris Woodley, a retired Coast Guard captain who is executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a Seattle-based trade group that represents five companies that operate 19 catcher-processors off Alaska.

Crew members on the Alex Haley, a Coast Guard ship, in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska in the Arctic Circle in 2015. (Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

Fishing companies that work off Alaska are donating money to Coast Guard workers who — despite missing paychecks — continue to conduct safety exams and patrols, and stand ready to respond to disasters at sea.

The fundraising effort was kicked off earlier this week by Chris Woodley, a retired Coast Guard captain who now serves as executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a Seattle-based trade group that represents five companies that operate 19 catcher-processors off Alaska.

Members of the Coast Guard with aircraft in Kodiak, Alaska, on Jan. 16. The federal shutdown has brought a particular chill to the small town that is dependent on its Coast Guard base. (Ash Adams / The New York Times)

The fundraiser is part of a much broader effort to help federal workers facing financial difficulties in the partial government shutdown that has resulted from the political impasse between Congress and President Donald Trump over funding of a border wall.

“As a former Coast Guardsman stationed in Alaska, I cannot overstate how much our assistance can mean to a Coast Guard family in need,” Woodley wrote in an online fundraising letter.

The Coast Guard, though part of the armed forces, is funded through the Department of Homeland Security. And Homeland Security — which includes the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport security — has been hard hit by the shutdown.

Woodley’s goal is to raise $65,000 for the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, which offers zero-interest loans to Coast Guard families facing hard times. The money will be used to provide 50 loans of $1,500 to Coast Guard families based in Alaska, where major hubs include Kodiak, Anchorage and Juneau.

As of Thursday morning, just over $35,000 had been contributed, according to Woodley.

The Coast Guard is a key part of federal support for the Alaska fisheries, which are the most productive in the nation, yielding harvests of fish and crab with a wholesale value of more than $4 billion, according to a study prepared for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Many of the harvests unfold in winter, when big storms often create treacherous conditions. Despite the government shutdown, the Coast Guard has maintained enough inspection and other services to enable the fleet to launch the January harvests.

The Coast Guard also has a major presence in the Pacific Northwest, including in Seattle and other Washington state communities; its annual operating budget in this state was more than $270 million in 2016. And the financial stress is mounting for Coast Guard families here, as it is in Alaska and across the nation.

In a video message posted Tuesday on Twitter, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said he was heartened by what he called an “outpouring of support” from local communities across the nation, but said “ultimately I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members.”

The fundraising effort also was noted in a letter seeking Homeland Security funding that five former department secretaries sent this week to President Trump and members of Congress. Their letter noted that Coast Guard members, as part of the armed forces, cannot quit their jobs due to a lack of pay, and called it “unconscionable”” that DHS employees should have to turn to charity to help feed their families.