Which Alaska region is home to the most fishing boats, and where do most of Alaska’s fishermen live?
Answers to those questions and many others can be found in the annual report Economic Value of Alaska’s Seafood Industry 2020 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The report, prepared by the McDowell Group, gives a fishing snapshot by Alaska region, including employment rates and tax revenues, and breaks down the industry’s impacts to the nation and the world.
Here are some highlights:
The seafood industry contributed $5.6 billion in economic output to Alaska’s economy in 2017/2018, including harvesting, processing, and support sectors.
About 58,700 workers were directly employed by Alaska’s seafood industry, earning $1.7 billion in wages annually.
There were 29,400 skippers, active permit owners and crew who fished in Alaska, of which 16,319 (56%) were Alaska residents.
Most of Alaska’s fishermen (38%) live in the Southcentral region, more than any other area.
Alaska processors employed 26,000 workers on average at 166 shore based plants, 49 catcher processors and 10 large floating processors. Most fish is sold by processors as headed/gutted whole fish (41%) followed by fillets (20%), surimi (13%) , roe (10%), canned (5%) and only 3% for meal/oils.
Alaska is home to over 9,000 fishing vessels. More than one-third (3,259) are in the 23-32 foot range; 2,206 boats range from 33-49 feet in length.
Southeast Alaska is home to 2,462 fishing boats, nearly a quarter of the statewide fleet and more than any other region.
Nearly 5.7 billion pounds of seafood worth $2 billion at the docks was harvested in 2017-2018 fisheries. Processors turned it into 2.8 billion pounds of product worth $4.7 billion.
Salmon was the most valuable catch for fishermen at $744 million, followed by Alaska pollock at $461 million.
Alaska pollock accounts for 44% of the global supply; Alaska salmon accounts for just 13% of global supply.
The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands region accounts for 55% of Alaska’s fishery value and 81% of the volume.
Bristol Bay typically accounts for 42% of the world’s sockeye salmon harvest.
Seafood industry tax revenues topped $172 million in 2018 of which 43% went to the state, ($73 million), 30% to local governments ($51 million), 23% to salmon hatchery management ($40 million), and 5% to the federal government ($8 million).
Seven of the 10 largest shoreside processors invested a total of over $100 million per year in capital expenditures from 2012 to 2016 and spending has continued to increase.
Alaska’s fishing fleet also has expanded. An average of 75 new boats were added to the fleet annually from 2013 to 2018, an average investment of more than $50 million per year.
Alaska produces two-thirds of the nation’s seafood harvest and is home to nine of the top 20 U.S. ports for value. Seafood also is Alaska’s biggest and most valuable export at over $3 billion, going to 97 countries in 2018.
The economic impacts of Alaska’s seafood industry are sustained without one penny of support from the state. ASMI, the lone marketing arm, is funded entirely by an industry-paid 5% marketing assessment based on the dockside value of the catches and federal funding for American export industries.
Safety drill trainings coming up
Since 1994 it’s been the law that skippers and crews conduct monthly safety drills if they fish beyond 3 miles.
“And those monthly drills have to cover man overboard, flooding, fire and abandoned ship, those four scenarios,” said Jerry Dzugan, executive director of the Sitka-based Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.
AMSEA training helps fishermen get accustomed to doing the safety drills and stay up to speed with using survival equipment like EPIRBS, life rafts, radios and immersion suits.
“The Coast Guard recognizes the certificate cards that we give to people who have completed the course as meeting the requirements of being a drill conductor,” he added.
Dzugan said safety awareness has increased over the past 20 years and tragedies like the loss this month of five fishermen on the Scandies Rose spikes interest in training — for a while.
“We tend to get into our old habits again. But I think every time this happens, the Destination, Big Valley, the list goes on, people are more conscientious of safety. We’ve seen a lot more interest among younger fishermen who are just entering the fisheries,” he added.
[Sinking of crab boat comes after decades-long push to improve safety of commercial fishing]
Nearly 50% of fishing deaths are due to boat stability issues, Dzugan said, and up to one-third from falling overboard. Most of those deaths could be prevented with use of new, comfortable, workable life jackets.
“I see and I hear about more people using them, but it’s still nowhere near a majority. Some of that is due to the fact that a lot of people aren’t aware of the extremely wearable devices that are out there,” Dzugan added.
Eight fishermen died in Alaska in 2019, according to Scott Wilwert, U.S. Coast Guard District 17 fishing vessel safety program manager.
AMSEA has safety drill trainings in coming weeks at Sitka, Kodiak, Ketchikan and Yakutat. See the lineup at amsea.org.
Fishing for art
The Alaska Forest Service is fishing for entries in state fish art contests.
“We are just thrilled to see such a diverse assortment of art coming into our offices in Juneau. Our employees are going to be engaged as judges. This is something really fun for us,” said Bobbie Jo Skibo, U.S. Forest Service regional partnership coordinator in Alaska and new state host of the fish art competition.
The free art contest is a project of the conservation charity Wildlife Forever and its Fish On! Program. Since 1987, Wildlife Forever has funded conservation works in all 50 states and Canada with more than 1,500 projects.
“There’s a lot of young people who consider themselves artists but not outdoors people. Using this contest we can reach new young people to encourage them to become stewards of the outdoors,” said education director Julia Luger, adding that entries have come from more than 16 countries.
The state fish art contest is open to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade and can include any Alaska fish. For a new Alaska Fish Heritage category, Skibo said chinook salmon should be the star.
“Here in Alaska, chinook is our state fish and that’s something a lot of people don’t even know. The Forest Service is proud of the chinook salmon we grow. We manage headwaters down to the sea and we want to make sure we promote the conservation and stewardship for that resource. There’s so many benefits to so many people that we really wanted to put forward a fish heritage award to celebrate that here in Alaska,” she said.
Young artists also can enter an international competition called the Fish Migration Award.
Skibo said the art challenges help bring conservation messages into the classroom
“We do land management and policy and there’s a lot of things going on, but I’ll tell you what, it’s connecting to our constituent, the youth, the people in our communities and this is a really unique way for us to be able to do that.”
Winning artwork gets widely displayed and artists get various prizes from the Guy Harvey Foundation and Bass Pro Shops, the title sponsor. Deadline to enter the fish art contests is March 31. Visit wildlifeforever.org.