Story last updated at 2/25/2009 - 11:52 am
Alaska's seafood industry puts more people to work than the tourism, forestry, mining and oil/gas industries combined. Unfortunately, most of the money made in the seafood industry continues to flow Outside.
While Alaska residents account for nearly two-thirds of the fishermen out on the water, Alaskans make up only about one-third of the seafood processing work force. According to the new report "Seafood Industry in Alaska's Economy by Northern Economics of Anchorage," in 2006 nonresident seafood processing workers earned nearly $328 million - 82 percent of the $400.2 million paid to that sector. About 56 percent of the $210 million paid to fishermen went to nonresidents.
Data from the state Department of Labor show that nonresidents earn a greater share of the fish bucks because they hold more jobs in the lucrative pollock and crab fisheries, while Alaska harvesters are the vast majority in less lucrative or short term fisheries, such as salmon.
The Aleutians and Pribilof Islands region accounted for 37 percent of the seafood industry's dockside value in 2007; Southeast and South-central accounted for 21 and 20 percent, respectively; Kodiak at 13 percent, Bristol Bay at eight percent and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region had landings valued at just one percent.
Seafood processing made up more than one-fifth of the annual average employment in Alaska's goods-producing sector in 2007, and accounted for almost 80 percent of all manufacturing employment. No other state has this level of industry concentration.
Alaska seafood processing companies are aggressive about hiring Alaska residents, and the state Department of Labor has a Web site dedicated to seafood industry jobs. Alaskan workers tend to not apply for seafood processing jobs, however, preferring instead to work in the harvesting sector.
The value of Alaska's seafood industry has been ticking steadily upwards for the past five years, with total economic output in 2007 at nearly $6 billion. Alaska's fisheries now account for 62 percent of all seafood harvested in the U.S.
CAPACITY IS OK
Processors say they can handle this summer's entire run of salmon at the world's biggest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay. That's according to the annual processor capacity survey released by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Thirteen out of 15 processors responded, accounting for 98 percent of the salmon purchased last year. One buyer said they would not be in the Bay this summer; another was unsure.
The 2009 forecast calls for a slightly lower harvest of 24 million sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay. The 13 processors said they are able to purchase and process 30.7 million fish for the season, with daily capacity of 1.8 million salmon per day, or 100,000 more fish than last year. They also indicated a three percent increase in the Bay's tender fleet capacity.
The "in-Bristol Bay" tender fleet has a holding capacity of 36.4 million pounds, an increase of one million pounds compared to last year. The estimated capacity of the long haul tender fleet is 3.1 million pounds, and the season capacity is 16.6 million pounds.
Still, many fishermen are skeptical about the processors' ability to handle all the salmon. Last year the bulk of the red run arrived all at once and overwhelmed capacity. Processors imposed trip limits or stopped buying altogether, and frustrated fishermen watched three million catchable reds swim by their nets. A recent study from the Juneau-based McDowell Group found that 37 million fish worth $131 million to fishermen went unharvested in the past five years.
"We have a consistent pattern in the Bay right at the peak of the run where it's clear that there is a need out there for a little bit more processing right at the peak," said Cora Crome, the Governor's fisheries advisor, after last year's fishery.
For years Fishermen have been pushing for floating processors to be allowed into Bristol Bay to help handle any fish surplus. Crome said the State will work first with local processors to expand capacity, if necessary, and then look to other U.S. or foreign companies.
CHEERS FOR CHUMS!
Sesame Teriyaki Keta Salmon by Trident Seafoods was the grand-prize winner at the Symphony of Seafood bash last week at the Captain Cook hotel in Anchorage. About 450 people showed up to sample and vote on all the entries, said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which sponsored the event.
In all, 13 new items made their debut at the event, now in its 16th year of showcasing innovative Alaska seafood products. Trident's Teriyaki Keta also took top honors in the Food Service category; second prize went to a Lemon Butter Sole Buffet Kit by Ocean Beauty Seafoods; and Smoked Scallops by Gerard and Dominique Seafoods of Woodinville, Wash. took home third place in that category.
Trident also placed first in the retail category for its Thai Chile (chum) Salmon Fillets; Sweet Apple Salmon on a Cedar Plank by Hartley's Northwest Seafood placed second and Smart Salmon by Shining Ocean of Sumner, Wash. scored third.
In the smoked category, first place went to Wild Alaska Pink Salmon Sides by Valdez Fisheries Development Association; second place went to Italian Style Salmon Sausage with Whiskey by Aqua Cuisine of Eagle, Idaho (which also won the People's Choice award). Smoked Salmon parfait by Gerard and Dominique Seafoods won third place in the smoked category.
The Symphony winners will next head to the International Boston Seafood show in mid-March.
"We provide them with booth space and enter the winning new products into the Boston contest. They all get good representation at the largest seafood show in the U.S.," Browning said.
BIG DEAL FOR BYPRODUCTS
Scientists and industry stakeholders will gather this week in Portland, Ore. for a two day symposium called "A Sustainable Future: Fish Processing Byproducts." For details visit www.alaskaseagrant.org.
The work of five researchers from Kodiak's Fish Tech Center is featured. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation will debut a short 'edu-tainment' DVD on salmon byproducts, ranging from oils to boots and bikinis. (It is my first venture into video, co-produced in Kodiak with David Kaplan and Alf Pryor.). For a copy contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Welch lives in Kodiak.