Senate Bill 93, which increases the limits on payouts from the Alaska Fisherman’s Fund for commercial fishing illnesses and injuries, passed the Alaska House 39 – 1 on Thursday.  The bill, sponsored by the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, better ensures fishing crew members’ medical costs from fishing related incidents are covered.

“I think it’s crucial that we support hard working Alaskans, especially when they’ve become ill or injured on the job and need money from funds that they have paid into,” said Senate Labor and Commerce Committee Chair Jesse Bjorkman R-Nikiski. “Commercial fishermen will have greater financial support from the Alaska Fisherman’s Fund when they file a claim with no cost to the State, because the Fisherman’s Fund dollars come from fees received from commercial fishing license sales.”

Established in 1951, the Fishermen’s Fund provides for the treatment and care of licensed commercial fishermen who have been injured in Alaska while fishing offshore or onshore when they are in active crew status.

The bill increases the maximum payout to a crew member for any one injury or disablement from $10,000 to $15,000. Because the fishermen fund the bill, safeguards were included to ensure that if the fund balance falls below set points, payout limits will decrease to avoid raising fees.

Commercial fishers are not covered under Workers’ Compensation, and if a crew member’s medical costs are above the maximum payouts, the vessel owner is then liable for the remainder. SB 93 also increases the maximum amount paid to a vessel owner to cover their insurance deductible for a qualifying crewmember’s illness or injury from $5,000 to $15,000. This helps vessel owners purchase coverage as they can do so at a lower cost by selecting a plan with a higher deductible while ensuring their crew members’ expenses are covered.

“The Alaska Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council brought the need to increase the statutory limits on benefits payments to my attention,” said Senator Bjorkman. “I introduced SB 93 through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, which I chair, and had the privilege of carrying the bill through the Legislative process.”

The bill unanimously passed the Senate last May before passing the House 39-1. It now goes to Governor Dunleavy for his signature.

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