Story last updated at 8/19/2009 - 5:58 pm
A project that aims to collect labor data on Alaska's deckhands will be on the agenda when state lawmakers convene in January.
An estimated 20,000 deckhands work onboard Alaskan fishing boats, but as self employed workers, they don't provide typical wage and employment data to the state. That's left a whole work force largely unaccounted for in terms of its economic input and importance.
"The people who work as crew members on fishing boats are one of the only groups of laborers in Alaska that are not counted in some way by the state. It's high time this important sector of the industry gets credit for what they do," said Jan Conitz, director of the labor data project for the AK Dept. of Fish and Game.
"All we know is that someone buys a crew members license. We don't know if they fish, what fisheries they fish in, how many, how long - any of that kind of stuff," said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the commercial fisheries division, who has spearheaded the project.
"You can't really estimate the total economic impact of commercial fishing unless you know something about the earnings and employment patterns for the crew members, who are such an important part of the work force. And we don't have any of that information," he added.
The lack of data also has kept deckhands on the losing end of quota systems that dole out shares of the catch.
Bruce and Conitz are among a multi-agency and industry advisory team working over the past two years to develop a labor data collection system for deckhands. The program got seed money from a onetime $150,000 appropriation by the 2008 Alaska legislature.
Basically, the crew data input would tie into existing state fish ticket or e-landing systems, and/or skippers might be required to keep a crew log. The new reporting would be mandatory for deckhands in all Alaska commercial fisheries.
Conitz admits some fishermen are skittish about providing more data to the government, but she said most agree the accounting is necessary. A big driver is the trend towards IFQs.
"A lot of the smaller fishing towns are really concerned about the jobs and opportunities leaving their communities," Conitz said. "It's getting to where a young person would have a really tough time entering the industry, and having any hope of working up to where they could be the owner of a boat."
Shawn Dochtermann, a Kodiak fisherman and industry panel member, agreed that the deckhand data is important.
"If you want to protect your livelihood and be part of any privatization program, it's your responsibility to be counted," Dochtermann said.
The agency and industry team will meet in December to finalize its recommendations to the Alaska legislature.
Golden gets it going
The golden king crab fishery started on August 15th signaling the start of fall crab seasons in the Bering Sea. Only five or six boats drop pots for golden kings, primarily in the deep waters off the Aleutian Islands. Golden king crab one of Alaska's most stable crab fisheries, yielding a steady 5-6 million pounds each year.
The outlook for this year's catches of red king crab at Bristol Bay, and Bering Sea snow crab are less certain. Managers are still crunching the numbers from the summer surveys and Fish and Game will announce the catches in late September. Those fisheries start in mid-October.
Looking at the competition: The Barents Sea king crab fishery will be first out of the blocks next month and it will hit the US market at the same time as Alaska crab. Market watcher Ken Talley said small king crab is coming in from the Russian Far East, and Norway is ramping up its king crab sales to the U.S. Talley said U.S. markets are awash with lower priced snow crab from Canada. With tourism down 30 percent this summer, he said retailers are having trouble moving all the snow crab that is available.
Name the ice breaker
When it is completed in 2014, the Alaska Region Research Vessel will be one of the most technologically advanced oceanographic vessels in the world. The 242-foot vessel is designed for research in arctic and subarctic waters, and capable of breaking ice up to 2.5 feet thick.
But it is missing something: a name. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is asking the public to submit ideas for the name of the research vessel. Send to email@example.com by Sept. 1. For more info on the ship visit www.sfos.uaf.edu/arrv.
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. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.