OPINION: Fear, legacy and the Alaska seafood industry

My journey began from a deep-rooted fear — the fear of watching a livelihood, passed through generations of commercial fishermen, slip through my fingers. Three decades ago, I was a young Copper River fisherman caught in the middle of a market crash. Farmed salmon had just entered the U.S., tanking prices for wild Alaska salmon. As a young fisherman, fiercely proud of the salmon I caught, this shift turned my world upside down. At that moment, I made a pivotal decision — band with three other fishermen, form Copper River Seafoods, and wage a battle for the premium markets I felt Alaska salmon rightfully deserved.

Spoiler alert: It’s been three decades, and we’re still fighting every day to compete. With experience, I’ve learned that my competition extends beyond other seafood; it’s beef, poultry and other proteins that occupy the “center of the plate.” In the face of market crises, conflicts, recessions, political turmoil and economic challenges, the burden I bear today mirrors the weight I carried in my 20s, but the challenges are now bigger and more complex. Nevertheless, the three decades of operating here in Alaska have given me confidence in our company’s capabilities, equipping us to confront the new challenges we face today.

Our commitment to growth and our contribution to Alaska persists. You may not think you have a connection to us, but it probably exists, either directly or indirectly, through year-round operations at our Anchorage processing facility and cold-storage that supply seafood to Alaska restaurants and grocery stores, creating hundreds of year-round jobs in service, shipping, construction, and more. At our peak, we directly employ nearly 700 people and provide service and support to commercial fishermen throughout Southcentral, Southwest and northern Alaska.

The most recent data backs this up, with the industry directly employing more workers than any other private industry in the state. This means jobs for more than 48,000 workers who earned $1.81 billion in total labor income each year. These jobs can be found across the state, from the Bering Sea and the Aleutians to Bristol Bay. The seafood industry’s activities also generate multiplier effects that echo throughout the rest of Alaska’s economy, in jobs, sectors, and regions that aren’t directly affiliated with seafood. All told, the industry is responsible for $6 billion in economic output in Alaska each year. This isn’t just harvesting and processing, but also all of the other sectors that make commercial fishing possible, and, by extension, exist because of the industry.

It’s hard not to appreciate the industry’s economic value, but it goes deeper than that. As a business owner and a year-round resident, I appreciate everything the seafood industry does for the state — including tax revenue. In 2022, the industry paid roughly $161 million in taxes, fees and self-assessments to fund fisheries management. While a quarter of taxes and fees paid stay in local communities, half goes to the state to benefit all Alaskans.

The contribution our company — and the entire seafood industry — makes to Alaska is significant in terms of taxes, jobs, and economic value. For me, the most important part is helping to sustain and support the generations of fishing families, including my sons who are now commercial fishing permit holders.

The challenges will continue, but the commitment from the thousands of members of our industry to evolve, reinvent and support the livelihood of commercial fishing will help forge new pathways for future generations of fish and fishermen. At Copper River Seafoods, we will have to continue to adapt and change to survive, yet we will always stay true to our mission: Be true to our fishermen, harness the power of the Copper River, sell the best food in the world.


Scott Blake, a fourth-generation Cordova fisherman and the CEO of Copper River Seafoods, is also a resident of Anchorage, Alaska. Copper River Seafoods operates a year-round processing facility and cold storage in Anchorage, as well as primary processing facilities situated across Alaska in Cordova, Naknek and Togiak.

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