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Alaska Fish Factor: Commercial Fishing Outscores Recreational

12 May 2014
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska.

US - The debate over which sector – commercial or recreational fishing – provides the bigger economic punch can finally be put to rest.

The annual ‘Fisheries Economics of the US’ report by the Dept. of Commerce shows once and for all that in terms of values, jobs, sales and incomes the commercial sector far outscores recreational fishing. A breakdown of the extensive report by market analyst John Sackton shows that in 2012, commercial fishing had $140 billion in sales compared to $58 billion for sport fishing. And for the value contributed to the national economy, commercial fishing added nearly $60 billion, double the recreational sector.

In terms of jobs, the seafood industry employed 1.27 million people compared to 380,000 for sports anglers. The most striking difference, Sackton said, is in where those people are employed. For sport fishing it was building boats and engines, representing 82 per cent of both employment and sales and it is very regionally concentrated. The NOAA report added that less than 20 per cent of the jobs in the sport industry come from guides, boat operators, tackle shops and various rentals.

For the commercial fishing industry, the value and jobs created are spread throughout the entire country; for the recreational sector, they are concentrated in a few states and industries. For example, Florida accounted for 30 per cent of all US recreational fishing jobs; add in the Gulf States and N. Carolina and the number jumps to nearly half the national total.

The economic benefits of the commercial seafood sector also penetrate all parts of the US and the economy. Unlike its sport counterparts, a fisherman in Alaska is in fact supporting dozens of other US jobs in retail, wholesale, distribution and import sectors. In short, the facts negate the argument that recreational fishing has a greater or more direct economic impact than the commercial fishery.

The Economics report also breaks down information by region. In terms of prices, it shows that of 10 key US species, sea scallops, Pacific halibut and sablefish received the highest ex-vessel (dock) prices in 2012 at $9.83, $4.48 and $3.42 per pound, respectively.

Menhaden and pollock had the lowest ex-vessel prices in 2012 at $0.07 and $0.12 per pound. However, landings of both species were the largest in the US at 1.77 billion pounds of menhaden and 2.87 billion pounds of pollock. Find a link to the ‘Fisheries Economics of the US report at

Get your gear on - The call is out for entries in the international Smart Gear competition! The contest, which began in 2005 by the World Wildlife Fund, rewards new gear ideas that help fishermen retain target catches while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds or small fish swim away.

This year’s competition offers the largest prize pool ever, said program director, Michael Osmond in a phone interview.

“There is a $30,000 grand prize; two $10,000 runners up prizes, and we also have two $7,500 what we call special bycatch prizes. One of them is a tuna bycatch reduction prize, and the other is a marine mammal bycatch reduction prize.”

The competition goes well beyond the cash prizes, he added.

“The second step is to get those ideas to the stage where they can actually be out there being used by industry, and doing the job they were designed to do,” he said.

WWWF and its partners continue working with the gear innovators and to date almost 50 per cent of the winning ideas from the competition are now out on the water. That includes the 2011winners - from Japan, a double weight branchline that prevents seabird bycatch; from Florida, a Seaqualizer that lets fish with air bladders be safely returned to deep water, and from California – simple LED lights or glow sticks that keeps turtles away from gillnets.

Osmond said 60 to 70 per cent of the gear entries come from fishermen, as do the majority of winning ideas. The 2011 competition attracted 74 entries from a record 31 countries. Osmond said Alaska is always in the mix with three or four entries.

“We haven’t yet had a winning idea that’s come from Alaska,” he said, “but this year is just as good a chance as any.”

Deadline to enter the Smart Gear contest is August 31.

Pollock opp flop - It’s the peak time of year for jig fishing for cod and 60 boats have landed over 1.5 million pounds so far out of a nearly six million pound quota. At the same time, jiggers can keep as much pollock as they catch. But so far it hasn’t been much of a draw.

“No one seems to be taking advantage of the pollock jig fishery in the sense that they are going out and targeting pollock,” said Matt Keyse, a regional manager at Fish and Game in Kodiak.

So far 15,000 pounds of pollock delivered by jig boats, which is about average, Keyes said.

“Every year jig cod boats tend to land between 20-30,000 pounds of pollock, and I expect we’ll be in that same range if things remain the same as they are now,” he added.

The jig cod price at Kodiak is 35 cents a pound; pollock is closer to 13 cents.

A dozen seiners signed up for the first ever pollock fishery and Keyse said he’s just waiting for the boats to show. 

“At this point we are waiting for someone to approach us and say they are ready to go,” Keyes said.

“There has been interest and most people who signed up a few weeks ago indicated it was probably going to be late May or early June because most of those boats are out herring fishing right now. So anytime between now and June 9th a guy can try some pollock seining.”

The Kodiak salmon season begins on June 9th and Keyes said there won’t be conflicting seine gear in the water.


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