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Alaska Fish Factor: Big Growth for Commercial Fishing Jobs

10 November 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 - Alaska’s largest employer continues to add more jobs to its roster. Commercial fishing jobs grew last year to a level not seen since the year 2000, according to the state Department of Labor. Driven primarily by an increased salmon harvest, notably from the record run of pinks, fishing jobs grew by nearly 2.5 per cent last year. That brought the annual monthly average to 8,400 jobs, just 400 shy of the record over a decade ago.

Seafood harvesting and processing jobs are a focus of the November Alaska Economic Trends, which breaks down the numbers by region. Some highlights:

Salmon fishing jobs were the main source of growth between 2012 and 2013 with a statewide gain of 452 jobs, or 10 percent. Salmon at Bristol Bay accounted for 98% of harvesting jobs, and 73% in the South Central region. Alaska crabbing dropped by about 100 jobs over those two years, down 17 percent. The average loss for groundfish harvesting jobs was 187 jobs, or 15 percent.

Southeast Alaska has steadily been generating the most fishing jobs at 2,510, gaining 210 last year – the most since 2000. South Central was next at 1,619 jobs due to the region’s halibut fleets and the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet salmon fisheries. The Aleutians/Pribilof Islands’ ranked third for fishing employment at 1,513, followed by Bristol Bay with 1,364 fishing jobs. Conversely, jobs in Kodiak fisheries dropped nearly 13 percent last year to 770 due to decreased landings of halibut and groundfish. A total of 380 fishing jobs was listed for the Yukon Delta,and 146 for the “Northern” region.

The Trends report also highlights jobs in 170 Alaska seafood processing plants, which are projected to grown by nearly seven percent through 2022; the highest-paid processing occupations are expected to grow at nearly twice that rate. These jobs are related to high level management, engineering, metal fabricators and fitters, installation, maintenance and repair.

Because of the remoteness of Alaska’s fisheries and the low resident populations, it is necessary for processors to seasonally bring in non-resident workers, which top 73 percent.

Interestingly, next to slime line workers, the highest rates of nonresident workers were among
vessel engineers (59.5 percent); captains, mates, and boat pilots.

The Economic Trends report also looks at Alaska’s Community Development Quota program. Find it at

Salmon love - Shrimp remained America’s favorite seafood last year – but Alaska is credited for pushing salmon to the second spot due to the huge production of pink salmon.

That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which compiles the Top 10 list of seafood favorites each year based on NOAA’s annual Fisheries of the US report. The list makes up nearly 97% of all the seafood Americans eat.

Each American ate 2.7 pounds of salmon in 2013, an overall 34% increase from the year before.

Imports of farmed salmon increased just 5% to 620 million pounds – meaning it was Alaska salmon that drove increased consumption, said market expert John Sackton. And salmon imports to date this year are up 8%, he added, meaning American’s strong usage of salmon is continuing. Salmon pushed canned tuna to third place for favorites, with per capita consumption of tuna down 4 percent.

Following the top three favorites were tilapia, pollock and pangasius. Just as Alaska wild salmon faces tough competition from farmed salmon, Alaska pollock faces a similar market squeeze from those two popular farmed whitefish.

Cod moved up a notch to seventh place with a nice 16% jump in US per capita consumption. Sackton said that increase stems from more availability from that million tons of cod coming out of the Barents Sea.

Rounding out the Top 10 list of seafood favorites were catfish, crab – at half a pound person an increase of 5% - and finally, clams.

In all, each American ate 14.5 pounds of seafood last year, the same as in 2012. The NOAA report says that imports represented 94% of all seafood eaten, but that figure is being reworked. For one thing, it doesn’t reflect seafood sent to China for processing and then re-imported to the US.

Fish watch - Alaska’s halibut fishery ended Friday and nearly all of the 16 million pound catch was pulled aboard during the eight month season. It’s a toss up to see which will be the top halibut port – Homer’s lead was only about 150,000 pounds more than Kodiak. The halibut fishery will reopen in March.

Sablefish also ended on November 7 with longliners taking about 90% of that 24 million pound quota.

Bering Sea crabbers were making short work of the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay. In little more than two weeks the fleet had taken 90% of their 10 million pound quota. No word on dock prices, which might not settle out until mid-January, said Jake Jacobsen of the crabbers’ Inter-Cooperative Exchange. Processors have been offering king crab at wholesale for $13 per pound, 50-cents less than last year, according to market reports.

Jacobsen said the unexpected 15 million pound Tanner crab fishery might run through the end of March, with price negotiations continuing through June.

Various boats are still targeting cod and flatfish in the Gulf and Bering Sea.

There’s lots of fishing action in Southeast- trollers are targeting king salmon, the winter food and bait herring fishery is underway and fishing for seven kinds of rockfish opened on November 8. The half million pound pot shrimp fishery is pretty much over in most Southeast districts, crabbing for Dungeness is ongoing and diving continues for sea cucumbers and geoduck clams. Kodiak’s sea cuke fishery ended October 30th.

Congratulations to Nick Sagalkin of Kodiak who was named as ADF&G Supervisor of the Westward region. He will oversee fish and shellfish fisheries from Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, all the way to the Pribilof and St. Matthew Islands.

Giving back – American Seafoods Company is granting $43,000 to worthwhile Alaska programs and organizations that focus on such things as hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The company awards grants three times each year, and since 1997 y has donated over $1.2 million to worthy causes. Deadline to submit an application is Nov. 17.

Contact Kim Lynch at or 206-256-2659.

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