PUBLISHED: 5:09 PM on Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Insights to commercial fishing demographics
What is the average age of Alaska commercial fishermen? 47.1 years, compared to 38.3 for other state industries.

What percentage of Alaska's statewide fish harvesters in 2005 were non residents? 38.6 percent, with total gross earnings of 60.4 percent. For processing workers, 67.3 percent were non-residents, earning 66.2 percent of total wages.

Those are just a few of the insights on Alaska's seafood industry workforce now available from the state Dept. of Labor. Easy to read tables and pie charts provide information through 2005 on harvesting and processing jobs for every fishery in each region, even offshore. And for the first time, labor data for the seafood work force is compared with other Alaska industries.

  Laine Welch
"We were interested in how much commercial fishing money ran through a region in a given year and how it compared to other industries there. When communities are applying for certain grants, it's important to be able to document how many fishermen are working in their area," said Dept. economist Andy Wink.

Some of the data are startling, such as the number of non resident seafood processing workers at the Aleutians and Pribilof Islands at 92.2 percent, and 79.7 percent for the Bristol Bay Borough.

"At this point, we need them and they need us to get the jobs done. But there definitely is a lot of non resident involvement," Wink said.

Groundfish (pollock, cod, flounders, rockfish, etc.) comprised 37.6 percent of total fish landings in 2005, followed by salmon at 25.8 percent, halibut at 14.9 percent and crab at 12.7 percent.

Data show that from 1997 through 2004 the seafood industry as a whole has been catching more fish with fewer people. Alaska communities that gained or lost the most resident fishermen during that time frame:

Sitka gained the most at 31, Juneau and Metlakatla gained 11, Petersburg gained eight harvesters and Chugiak gained seven. In terms of losses, Hooper Bay went from 32 fishermen in 1997 down to three in 2004. Kwigillingok went from 34 to five, Unalakleet dropped from 92 harvesters to 28, Shaktoolik went from 31 to 11 and Egegik went from 53 to 20 resident fishermen.

The statewide percentage of seafood industry workers employed in Alaska in 2005 was 15.2 percent compared to 84.7 for other private sectors. For coastal Alaska, harvesting and processing comprised 36.9 percent compared to 63.1percent for other private sector workers. In all, the seafood workforce statewide totaled 50,305 workers; followed by 38,556 construction workers.

Andy Wink said he is updating the seafood industry site now with 2006 data and he would appreciate "lots of feedback." Find the site at (scroll down) and contact Wink at 907-465-6032 or at

Grant give aways

Three grant programs are open now through September 10 for Alaska salmon industry stakeholders in Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Why just Southeast?

"It has to do with the funding source," explained Debbie Mass of state Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. "The money comes from the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which we often refer to as the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund. These monies can only be used for salmon related projects in Southeast Alaska."

Salmon Vessel Quality Upgrade grants of up to $25,000 are open to permit holders and tender operators to help boost chilling or freezing capacity.

Fisheries Economic Development grants are open to qualifying communities, non profits and small businesses and can be used for such things as cold storage facilities, or transportation and distribution improvements. Maas said there is no limit on these grants so applicants can request as much as they'd like "although reasonable requests are appreciated."

Marketing grants are open to Southeast fishermen, and large and small processors.

"Small direct market fishermen are limited to $25,000 and there is a 75% contribution from our department. Mid-size processors can apply for up to $200,000 and we provide two thirds of the matching requirement. Anything above that is considered a major grant and it's a 50/50 matching requirement," Maas said.

She added that the economic and marketing grants are competitive, meaning they are judged against each other. The vessel upgrade grant, however, is determined on a first come, first served basis.

"Those applications don't compete against one another. We're already receiving many so it would be wise not to wait until the Sept. 10 deadline," Maas said.

Contact Maas at 465-2023 or

Permit surprise!

Every U.S. boat owner (except those in the military) could soon be required to get a water pollution permit to discharge bilge water, ballast water, even deck runoff.

The Marine Exchange of Alaska calls the new law "a nightmare for anyone who operates a watercraft, from a 950 foot container ship to a 14 foot outboard." State records show nearly 70,000 boats are registered within the state of Alaska. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, along with 8,400 vessels equipped with ballast water tanks making 86,000 port calls, there are also 13 million recreational boats, 81,000 commercial fishing boats and 53,000 freight and tanker barges operating in U.S. waters.

The EPA is appealing the federal court ruling. Meanwhile, the agency is asking for public comments should it be required to develop the new permitting program. Deadline to comment is Aug. 6.

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