By Laine Welch
Where do most Alaska fishermen live? Which Alaska region is home to the most fishing boats?
The answers can be found in an easy to read, colorful economic report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for 2019/2020 that includes all regions from Ketchikan to Kotzebue.
Many will be surprised to learn that nearly 40% of Alaska’s more than 31,000 fishermen live in the Southcentral towns of Anchorage, Kenai, Cordova, Seward, Homer, Valdez and Whittier. They earn more than half of their paychecks from fisheries outside of the region, with the Bristol Bay driftnet fishery being the main source of income.
Southeast’s 5,316 resident fishermen in nine communities own nearly one-third (2,655) of Alaska’s fishing fleet, more than any other region.
Overall, the industry includes 8,900 fishing vessels with 5,417 (61%) measuring in the 23-49 foot range. Each is a small (or big) business and if all the vessels were lined up bow to stern, they would stretch nearly 63 miles! The fishing boats harvested nearly 5.7 billion pounds of seafood in 2019, worth $2 billion.
Other snapshots: Alaska’s seafood industry is the largest private sector employer and more than 62,200 workers were on the job in 2019. 63% of the active permit owners and crew (19,808) were Alaska residents.
Alaska’s processing sector employed 27,100 workers at 160 shore based plants, aboard 52 catcher-processor vessels and about 30 floating processors. Seafood processing is the state’s largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 70% of manufacturing employment.
Alaska produces more seafood than all other U.S. states combined and provides two-thirds of the nation’s wild-caught fish and shellfish.
Alaska seafood is sold in 100 countries around the world and is the state’s top export by far, topping $3 billion annually.
Alaska provides 43% of the global supply of pollock, 13% of cod, 6% of crab. Alaska salmon provides 11% to the world with farmed salmon production swamping wild fish at nearly 3:1.
Bristol Bay (428 resident-owned boats/1,764 resident fishermen) accounts for over half of global sockeye salmon supply and is home to the largest red run in the world.
In 2019, Alaska salmon accounted for 36% of the industry’s annual value and 15% of the volume. Pollock accounted for 24% of the value and 59% of volume.
The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands region produced 55% of total seafood value and 79% of the volume. High volume whitefish (pollock, cod), mostly harvested at that region and Kodiak, account for roughly 80% of harvest volume and nearly half of Alaska’s dockside value.
Commercial fishing and processing businesses paid more than $163 million in taxes, fees, and self-assessments in FY 2019.
Covid-driven impacts in 2020 caused widespread revenue declines across all species with participation by fishermen dropping 12% for permit holders and 28% for crew (down by 1,058 skippers and 6,555 crew members) and payments to fishermen dropped 27%. Peak processing employment declined 21%.
The ASMI report, compiled by McKinley Research, is a great primer for anyone who wants to know more about Alaska’s fishing industry in every region. Find the January 2022 ASMI report at www.alaskaseafood.org
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