Laine Welch: New labor report shows upswing in fisheries jobs

FisheriesNovember 23, 2013 

More Alaskans are taking to the fishing life, as indicated by upward ticks in harvesting jobs for three years running.

That's according to the November Alaska Economic Trends by the state Labor Department, which provides a look at the numbers of "boots on deck" by region and fishery. A first: economists Jack Cannon and Josh Warren also looked at how much time is put into fishing pre- and post-season prep work and clean up, and what jobs fishermen do during the off times.

Some highlights:

  • Each month last year, on average, 8,189 fishermen plied the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, an increase of 122 jobs from the year before and up 318 jobs since 2010.
  • Of the 31,800 people who fished in Alaska last year, about 22,000 were crew members and 9,800 were permit holders. The crew tends to be young, with an average age of 34; over a third were between the ages of 21 and 30. Permit holders were considerably older, at 47 on average.
  • In terms of average monthly jobs, more than 56 percent were in salmon harvesting; groundfish and halibut fisheries followed at 15 and 12 percent, respectively.
  • Statewide, 57 percent of harvesting jobs take place between June and August.
  • By far, most of the harvesters were male at 86 percent; 85 percent of permit holders were men, as were 88 percent of crew members.
  • Averaged over the year, monthly fishing jobs were highest in Southeast Alaska at 2,299 jobs; followed by 1,661 jobs in the Aleutians; 1,408 in Southcentral; 1,365 in Bristol Bay; 881 in Kodiak and 372 jobs in the Yukon Delta.
  • A fishing job demands a lot of gear work and clean up before and after each trip and/or season. The economists asked more than 9,000 permit holders in a survey to specify the time their crew spent on this "work on the edges" -- it generated an additional monthly average of 385 jobs.
  • About a third of both halibut and salmon permit holders worked other jobs last year. At the other end of the scale, 10 percent or less of groundfish and sablefish harvesters held a payroll job in 2012, due in part to longer fishing seasons.
  • In a final question, permit holders were asked: "What factors could allow/cause you to increase the number of crew used to fish this permit?" A 60 percent survey return produced these top answers: Increase in catch: 71.3 percent; Increase in fish dock price: 41.2 percent; Advancing age: 38.4 percent.

Fish watch

Crabbers made quick work of their red king crab season at Bristol Bay, taking the roughly 8 million pound quota in a month. The advance price of $6.35/lb. will add up to a nearly $50 million fishery at the docks. The Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery should wrap up by mid-December. Golden king crab fishing is ongoing along the Aleutian Chain and winding down in Southeast. Likewise, pot shrimp and sea cucumber fisheries also are tapering off. It's still slow going for cod fishermen in the Gulf -- they've taken only 2.4 million pounds of their 8.2 million pound quota.

Lots of fish meetings in the lineup: The industry will get a first peek at potential halibut catch numbers when the International Pacific Halibut Commission holds its interim meeting Dec. 4-5 in Seattle. Final decisions will be made Jan. 13-17 at the IPHC annual meeting, also in Seattle.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Dec. 9-7 in Anchorage. Among other things, they will set catch quotas for next year's groundfish catches in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.

The state Board of Fisheries meets Dec. 5-6 in Anchorage to take up Chignik fisheries; that's followed on Dec. 8-11 when the board will focus on Lower Cook Inlet fish issues. All fish meetings will be webcast.


Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at alaskafishradio.com. Contact her at msfish@alaska.com.

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