PUBLISHED: 5:33 PM on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Seafood processing workers still needed across the state

Hundreds of seafood processing workers are still needed in coastal communities all across Alaska. Most of the jobs are entry level but many demand skills that go far beyond the slime line.

"There are a lot of skilled jobs that can set the stage for a career in the seafood industry that pay decent wages and don't demand a college degree," said Laurie Fuglvog, an employment analyst with the state Department of Labor.

Jobs include quality control technicians, cooks, electricians, plant and production managers, refrigeration mechanics and engineers, machinists, and fresh fish coordinators. Positions can be located at shore based seafood plants and aboard at sea processing vessels, and when fisheries wrap up in one region, workers can be relocated to another through the Traveling Seafood Workforce program.

Many seafood companies cover most transportation costs and room and board for their workers, Fuglvog said.

"Each company has slightly different rules but usually if you're in a remote area you get a pretty good deal and it's a great way to save money because there's no place to spend it," she said.

Fuglvog added that along with seasonal or year round career opportunities, seafood industry jobs provide a good training ground for younger Alaskans.

"It's a great opportunity for high school seniors or graduates to see different parts of Alaska and establish a work history," she said.

The availability of seafood industry jobs plus the opportunity to visit Alaska lure an increasing amount of foreign students each summer, Fuglvog said.

But the state DOL works with seafood companies to attract and retain Alaska workers. Unisea, for example, formed an Alaska Hire committee several years ago to boost resident employment around the state, she said.

According to 2005 DOL data, seafood harvesting and processing accounted for 14.6 percent of all private sector jobs in Southeast Alaska, 18.9 percent in the Gulf Coast and 51.9 percent throughout Southwest Alaska.

Get more information on seafood processing jobs at any state job center, or apply on line at Contact a Seafood Employment Specialist toll free at (800-473- 0688).

The Labor Department's Division of Business Partnerships also offers grants totaling $4 million this year under its State Training and Employment Program. The awards, which are usually limited to a maximum of $300,000 per applicant, are open to both non-profit and for profit organizations.

Last year, for example, Ocean Beauty received a grant to provide training on specialized fish processing equipment for workers in Kodiak.

The goal of STEP is to employ Alaskans in "critical demand" occupations in priority industries of health care, construction, information technology, education, natural resource development, transportation, hospitality and tourism and seafood harvesting and processing.

Requests for grant applications are posted on the DOL web site in the Spring and Fall.

Contact is Christine Sanderford at 907-269-2002.

Washington, DC watch

Protections for our nation's streams and wetlands were watered down by the Bush Administration last week. The New York Times reported that guidelines for enforcing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling governing wetlands were altered after lobbying from special interest groups, notably large cattle farmers and coal producers. Opponents said the altered rules will leave thousands of wetlands and streams unprotected and could have a profound effect on how federal laws under the Clean Water Act are applied.

At a time when concerns over food safety are at an all time high - the Food and Drug Administration is poised to relax labeling requirements on irradiated foods. Since 1986 the FDA has allowed food companies to zap certain foods like spices, ground beef and poultry with high energy rays to kill harmful bacteria.

A hearing by the House Fisheries Subcommittee is set for July 12.

Laine Welch, who lives in Kodiak, has written about Alaska's seafood industry since 1988.