Story last updated at 3/2/2011 - 2:21 pm
An updated study from 2009 shows that Alaska's seafood industry still leads all others when it comes to putting people to work.
The Seafood Industry in Alaska's Economy report by Northern Economics, Inc. shows that the industry employs more than 70,500 people each year - more than oil/gas, tourism, timber and mining combined.
The seafood industry ranks third for generating basic economic activity in Alaska ($4.6 billion in 2009), behind the oil and gas industry and the federal government. Seafood is second only to Big Oil in revenues it pumps into state coffers.
Unlike oil, Alaska's fisheries are sustainable and growing more robust.
"We had the 11th best salmon season and the value increased statewide. We are seeing the same thing with halibut and sablefish, and crab values have gone through the roof for king crab and snow crab," said Frank Kelty, natural resources consultant for Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and president of the Marine Conservation Alliance, which funded the study update.
Kelty said Unalaska/Dutch Harbor makes it a point to bring Alaska policy makers to town so they can see the seafood industry in action.
"Unalaska has as many container cranes as the city of Anchorage. We have over 100 longshoremen who work and live here," he said. "We have support sectors for every kind of electronics, engines, hydraulics, refrigeration equipment - they need to make trips out here and to places like Kodiak and Bristol Bay and see firsthand the size and scope of this industry."
Find the Seafood Industry in Alaska's Economy report at www.marineconservationalliance.org.
NEW SAFETY RULES
New safety regulations for fishing vessels are on the horizon, and fishermen need to pay attention and participate in developing the new rules.
Congress decreed the new measures as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010, which was signed into law last October. Most of the regulations are still being drafted and it could be several years before they are on the books. However, one already caught Alaska cod fishermen and the State by surprise this month - a shift of the traditional three-mile boundary line in some areas that separates state and federal waters.
"It changed the standard from the present boundary line to three nautical miles of the baseline from where the territorial sea is measured, which is that new gray line on the charts. That is spelled out very specifically in the Act," said Ken Lawrenson, Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator with the USCG 17th District in Juneau.
Within the sections that relate to fishing vessel safety, Lawrenson said some items are more discretionary, where wording and intent is general and non-specific to allow the industry and USCG to develop the regulations. At the other end of the spectrum, some regulations are very "black and white " and happening fast.
One is the every-other-year requirement for mandatory dockside exams and certificates of compliance for every vessel operating beyond three nautical miles.
"We've been given a target date of October 2012," Lawrenson said, adding that fishermen should "get a jump on it" and get exams done as soon as they can.
Another "hard and fast" date written into the law is 2015, when the USCG will eliminate approval for any survival craft that does not remove every portion of a survivor's body from the water.
"That means life floats and buoyant apparatus are no longer going to be acceptable as a survival craft. For smaller vessels, that has been the requirement since the early 1990s," Lawrenson said. "It's something you'll need to think about and start budgeting for - replacing an older device with an inflatable."
Here is a new rule that the industry has been dreading: Any new fishing vessel built after July 1, 2012 that is over 50 feet and fishes beyond three nautical miles will have to be built to strict new structural and stability standards, and classed by a shipping bureau.
Classed means a rigorous review of a vessel's building materials, power, propulsion, dewatering systems, navigation equipment, and arrangement of deck machinery, as examples.
Previously, the only vessels in the fishing industry required to be classed were at-sea processors. Congress removed that distinction, Lawrenson said, and made it apply to all commercial fishing vessels.
If a new vessel is greater than 79 feet, it also will have to maintain a load line from a class society as well, Lawrenson said. He added that naval architects estimate building to class will add 20-25 percent to the purchase price of a new vessel.
How do the new safety rules apply to older boats?
The Act requires that by 2020, if a vessel is greater than 50 feet, was built before July 1, 2012, and is 25 years of age or older, the USCG will have to develop an "alternate safety compliance program" for those vessels. It will be developed in cooperation with the industry and for specific regions and fisheries, Lawrenson said.
Get updates and learn how to participate in the process of developing the new safety regulations at www.fishsafe.info. Contact Ken Lawrenson in Juneau at 907-463-2810.
FISHERMEN CHOOSE RESPECT
Alaska fishermen are leading a charge to get their home communities behind Governor Parnell's Choose Respect campaign, which aims to end domestic violence. Alaska leads the nation in domestic abuse and sexual assault cases.
United Fishermen of Alaska board members voted unanimously this month to support the campaign by rallying awareness across the state. UFA is the nation's largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 38 fishing organizations across Alaska.
"With membership from one end of the state to another our reach is enormous, and we recognize that the governors' campaign is the right thing to do," said Cheryl Sutton, UFA state chairperson.
Choose Respect marches and rallies are planned for March 31 in over 40 Alaska communities so far. UFA members are getting local, governments, Chambers, businesses and civic organizations involved, said board member Linda Kozak of Kodiak.
"The fishing industry is the largest employer in the state, and it is a unique opportunity for the industry to partner with the state to find ways to raise awareness I think is a huge deal for the state and the fishing community," Kozak said.
Commercial fishing brings home the added stresses of uncertain catches and paychecks, and long absences far out at sea.
"We feel the fishing communities are kind of a barometer for the state in how some of these things can occur," she added. "We should be leaders in raising awareness about this problem and helping find solutions."
Get info on Choose Respect marches and rallies across Alaska at www.gov.alaska.gov.
Laine Welch has been covering Alaska's fishing industry since 1988. She lives in Kodiak.