OPINION: Alaska’s seafood industry is a vital component of our economy

A cornerstone for the future of Alaska rests in the opportunities that Alaskans have as they enter the workforce. As the acting commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, it is my priority to ensure there are diverse career pathways for young Alaskans. For many job seekers, Alaska’s commercial seafood industry offers exactly that.

Growing up in a family-owned seafood business, I worked on fishing boats and in processing facilities. It’s hard work, but it’s reliable, sustainable and deeply important to Alaska communities and our state as a whole. As a small business owner, I have a deep appreciation for the opportunities that the commercial fishing industry provides for Alaskans and their families. Every Alaska fishing boat is a small business, which makes commercial fishing operations the largest category of small businesses in our state.

A career in the commercial fishing industry involves more than fishing and cannery jobs – it means everything from construction workers to cooks, foremen to forklift drivers, pipefitters to processors, marketing to maintenance to mechanics, truck drivers to roe techs and beyond. While the fishing industry and its shore-based processors are quite visible to those living in coastal Alaska, there are less visible companies–yet vitally important ones–that contribute heavily to some of our most populous areas in Southcentral Alaska. Consider, for example, Copper River Seafoods’ Anchorage-based processing facilities that provide 200-year-round jobs to an entirely local Anchorage workforce. That’s just one example within a huge sector comprising hundreds of different direct and support industry jobs.

According to the most recent available data, Alaska’s seafood industry employs more than 60,000 workers, earning over $1.7 billion in wages each year. People living across coastal Alaska and beyond have the chance to take advantage of year-round careers in the seafood industry. A robust seafood industry also creates jobs in other sectors as ripple effects throughout the state, from restaurants and hotels to outfitters, construction, trade and accountants. The commercial fishing industry provides foundational economic opportunities that rural communities in particular can depend on. Simply put: Alaska’s seafood industry directly provides more jobs than any other private sector industry in the state.

As a fourth-generation Alaskan, parent, owner of a small business, state legislator, and now as acting commissioner, I’ve made workforce development a key priority throughout my career in public service. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development hosts several resources for Alaskans interested in careers in the seafood industry, including career streams presentations that give job seekers a sense of what a career in the seafood industry might entail, a central hub for job postings along with orientation videos, and information about some of the specific jobs and employers in the industry.

When it comes down to it, the seafood industry provides hundreds of career path options. So, whether you are starting your career or moving onto the next phase, there’s a chance all of us have played a part in Alaska’s seafood industry in one way or another, and there are near-countless opportunities for careers across the industry. The world’s appetite for seafood is growing. Preparing the next generation of fishermen, processors, scientists and more ensures that this sector remains a mainstay of Alaska’s economy for generations to come.

Acting Commissioner Cathy Muñoz leads the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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