Opinions

Salmon hatcheries add resilience to Alaska’s seafood industry

This past year hasn’t been an easy one. The impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are widespread, affecting the ability of Alaskans to support their families in the same way they did before. With tourism shut down in 2020 and fluctuations in the price of oil and the ever-mounting threat of climate change on our daily lives, it’s no wonder Alaskans are deeply concerned about the state’s economy. But here in 2021, we are in a better spot than we were a year ago, and there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. One component of the state’s economy has served as a consistent economic driver throughout last year’s trials and will continue to do so far into the future — Alaska’s salmon hatcheries.

Seafood, tourism, and oil & gas make up the three-legged stool of our economy, according to economic models. Our seafood sector has been able to thrive through the pandemic, thanks partly to the long-term and sustainable production of the salmon hatcheries established in Alaska in the 1970s. Across the state, the seafood industry employs almost 60,000 workers, nearly half of whom are Alaska residents, and it contributed more than $172 million in 2019 in raw fish taxes for state and local governments. The economic benefits generated by the seafood industry ripple across the state, and from Prince William Sound across Southcentral Alaska, raising incomes and lowering the cost of living in many communities, not to mention increasing food security. Harvests from Prince William Sound specifically make up more than half of the state’s ex-vessel value from hatchery-raised fish harvests — $69 million out of a total of $120 million. Our Alaska salmon hatcheries contribute 1 billion meals of nutritious Alaskan salmon to Alaska and the world annually.

Even those without direct ties to seafood can look to hatcheries as drivers of economic opportunity. A recent report by McKinley Research Group — formerly McDowell Group — highlights the impacts that hatcheries have on economic outcomes throughout Alaska. Each year, Alaska hatcheries account for roughly 4,700 jobs, $218 million in labor income, and a total of $600 million in economic output. In Prince William Sound alone, hatcheries generate roughly 2,200 jobs, $104 million in labor income, and a total economic output of $316 million each year. Hatcheries drive economic impacts far beyond direct labor and income by benefiting thousands of fishermen, processing employees, and hatchery workers, not to mention thousands more support sector workers, and even sportfish charter operators and guides, who likely rely on hatchery production for some portion of their income.

It’s hard to overstate the far-reaching impacts of Alaska’s hatcheries, especially when it comes to additional tax revenue. Hatcheries and the fish they produce generate local revenue through taxes on raw fish, property, and sales paid by commercial and charter fishermen, seafood processors, hatchery associations, and support sector businesses and employees. These tax revenues help Alaskan communities to survive in the challenging years and thrive in the good years across the state.

More directly, hatchery-produced salmon contribute to the State of Alaska Fisheries Business Tax, which ranges from 3% to 5% and is levied on ex-vessel values of harvested hatchery salmon. The revenue from this tax is split evenly between the state and the community where the salmon are landed. Thanks to enhancement taxes paid by commercial fishermen and cost recovery activities, Alaska’s nonprofit hatcheries are self-sufficient financially, ensuring that they contribute much more to the state’s economy than they pull out of it. Hatcheries throughout Prince William Sound, and across the rest of Alaska, yield extraordinary returns on investment and will offer opportunities for economic growth well into the future.

Alaskans are no strangers to challenges, and this past year has been full of them. Our ability to face such challenges head-on is as central to the Alaska way of life as salmon, and the state’s salmon exist and give back the way they do today thanks to careful management and great respect for the resource. Hatcheries are a contributor to that balance of care, respect, and sustainability. As the days get longer and the future becomes clearer, know that Alaska’s economic future is stronger, and many Alaska freezers will be filled because of our salmon hatcheries.

Kristin Carpenter is the executive director of the Prince William Sound Economic Development District. She has worked in nonprofit management in Cordova for more than 20 years.

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