Business/Economy

Economic report for Alaska fishing industry economic offers some surprising numbers

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Where do most Alaska fishermen live? Which Alaska region is home to the most fishing boats?

The answers can be found in an easy to read, colorful economic report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for 2019-20 that includes all regions from Ketchikan to Kotzebue.

Many will be surprised to learn that nearly 40% of Alaska’s more than 31,000 fishermen live in the Southcentral towns of Anchorage, Kenai, Cordova, Seward, Homer, Valdez and Whittier. They earn more than half of their paychecks from fisheries outside of the region, with the Bristol Bay driftnet fishery being the main source of income.

Southeast’s 5,316 resident fishermen in nine communities own nearly one-third (2,655) of Alaska’s fishing fleet, more than any other region.

Overall, the industry includes 8,900 fishing vessels with 5,417 (61%) measuring in the 23-49 foot range. Each is a small (or big) business and if all the vessels were lined up bow to stern, they would stretch nearly 63 miles! The fishing boats harvested nearly 5.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2019, worth $2 billion.

Other snapshots: Alaska’s seafood industry is the largest private-sector employer and more than 62,200 workers were on the job in 2019. Alaska residents made up 63% of the active permit owners and crew (19,808).

Alaska’s processing sector employed 27,100 workers at 160 shore-based plants, aboard 52 catcher-processor vessels and about 30 floating processors. Seafood processing is the state’s largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 70% of manufacturing employment.

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Alaska produces more seafood than all other U.S. states combined and provides two-thirds of the nation’s wild-caught fish and shellfish.

Alaska seafood is sold in 100 countries around the world and is the state’s top export by far, topping $3 billion annually.

Alaska provides 43% of the global supply of pollock, 13% of cod, 6% of crab. Alaska salmon provides 11% to the world, with farmed salmon production swamping wild fish at nearly 3-to-1.

Bristol Bay (428 resident-owned boats/1,764 resident fishermen) accounts for over half of global sockeye salmon supply and is home to the largest red run in the world.

In 2019, Alaska salmon accounted for 36% of the industry’s annual value and 15% of the volume. Pollock accounted for 24% of the value and 59% of volume.

The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands region produced 55% of total seafood value and 79% of the volume. High-volume whitefish (pollock, cod), mostly harvested at that region and Kodiak, account for roughly 80% of harvest volume and nearly half of Alaska’s dockside value.

Commercial fishing and processing businesses paid more than $163 million in taxes, fees, and self-assessments in FY 2019.

COVID-driven impacts in 2020 caused widespread revenue declines across all species, with participation by fishermen dropping 12% for permit holders and 28% for crew (down by 1,058 skippers and 6,555 crew members), and payments to fishermen dropped 27%. Peak processing employment declined 21%.

The ASMI report, compiled by McKinley Research, is a great primer for anyone who wants to know more about Alaska’s fishing industry in every region. Find the January 2022 ASMI report at www.alaskaseafood.org

Bycatch task force update – The 13-member bycatch task force created by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in November will hold its first two-hour online meeting on Friday starting at 9 a.m. An agenda and link for the public to either view or participate will be made available soon.

The task force includes a mix of state officials, fishery managers, commercial and sportfishermen and others. Their mission through Nov. 30 is to “study what impacts bycatch has on Alaska fisheries” and “make valuable recommendations to help better understand and address the issues of bycatch.”

“The first meeting will be to determine future meeting dates and introduce ourselves to each other. I’m not sure we’ll discuss any substantive issues,” said a task force member. Meanwhile …

Discards OK’d – The “pre-approved” 2022 bycatch numbers for the Bering Sea trawl fleet set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are as follows:

  • Chinook salmon bycatch: 45,700 fish (there is no hard cap for chums or other salmon)
  • Halibut bycatch: 5.48 million pounds (For the Gulf of Alaska: 3.76 million pounds)
  • Herring bycatch: 6 million pounds
  • Snow crab (opilio): 5.99 million individuals (equal to 7.8 million pounds; the catch for crabbers is 5.6 million pounds)
  • Tanner crab (bairdi): 3.07 million individuals (6,140,000 pounds; crabbers can take 1 million pounds)
  • Red king crab: 80,160 individuals (520,000 pounds; the fishery is closed to crabbers for the first time in 25 years)
  • There is no bycatch cap for sablefish (black cod) in the Bering Sea or Gulf; the Gulf also does not have any bycatch caps for any species of crab.

Lease plan gets panned – Alaskans gave a big thumbs down to a proposed oil and gas lease sale at Lower Cook Inlet that includes nine blocks covering over 1 million acres of seafloor. The waters are off the mouth of Kachemak Bay’s Critical Habitat Area created by the Alaska Legislature in the 1970s and are widely used by sport and commercial fishermen

Of the 92,899 public comments made over 45 days to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on its draft environmental impact statement, 99.98% were opposed to the lease sale (called 258), according to Cook InletKeeper.

The area includes federal waters three miles offshore that the government recently closed to Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing.

The BOEM will next issue a final EIS that responds to all substantive comments. At that time, they would adopt an action alternative (proposed action, no action, or an alternative). After a 30-day wait period, a record of decision is issued.

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Fish relief funds – Several Alaska fisheries occurring from 2018 to 2021 were declared disasters last week by the U.S. secretary of commerce, making participants eligible for relief funds. The declaration came at the request of the governor and include:

  • Upper Cook Inlet east-side setnet (2018) and Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries (2020)
  • Copper River chinook and sockeye salmon fisheries (2018)
  • Prince William Sound salmon fisheries (2020)
  • Copper River chinook, sockeye, and chum salmon fisheries (2020)
  • Eastern Bering Sea tanner crab (2019/2020)
  • Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska (2020)
  • Norton Sound, Yukon River, Chignik, Kuskokwim River, and Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries (2020)
  • Yukon River salmon fishery (2021)

Some fishery-related businesses may also be eligible for assistance from the Small Business Administration. The amount of funds to be distributed has yet to be determined.

Laine Welch | Fish Factor

Kodiak-based Laine Welch writes Fish Factor, a weekly roundup of news and opinion about Alaska's commercial fishing industry that appears in newspapers and websites around Alaska and nationally. Contact her at msfish@alaskan.com.

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