Crew jobs down, earnings up according to latest survey

Over the past six years average employment for Alaska commercial fishermen dropped slightly, but gross earnings were up — and that is a better measure of industry health.

That’s the conclusion of the state Labor Department’s November Economic Trends edition, which provides a great snapshot of fishing jobs and earnings in seven Alaska regions: Aleutian and Pribilof islands, Bristol Bay, Kodiak, Northern, Southcentral, Southeast and the Yukon Delta. The analysis also updates information last gathered in 2002.

It is hardly an exact science. Because fishermen are self-employed and fall outside the various wage withholding and unemployment insurance laws, the department uses surveys and industry research to estimate harvesting employment. Most of the information comes from the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which provides detailed data on gross estimated earnings, pounds caught and permits.

Some highlights: There were 6,915 Alaska fishermen working each month on average in 2010, a decline of 2.4 percent from the previous year, and down 7.6 percent from 2005.

Most of the fishing jobs were for salmon (50.2 percent); followed by halibut (20.1 percent), groundfish (8.1 percent), sablefish (7.4 percent), crab (5.4 percent), herring (4.9 percent), and miscellaneous shellfish (3.9 percent).

Southeast Alaska had the largest harvesting work force in 2010; it grew by 146 to 9,182 fishermen. The region ranked third in gross earnings at $208 million, an all-time high.

The Southcentral region ranked second for fishing jobs with 2,200 active permit holders, and second for gross earnings. Fishermen there set a record in earnings last year at nearly $265 million.

The Aleutians/Pribilof islands region was the leader in harvester earnings at nearly $500 million last year. The number of local fishermen has declined there over six years, with an estimated loss of 158 permit holders and 110 crew.

Kodiak fisheries are among the most stable in Alaska, with the number of active permit holders at around 800 and crewmembers at 2,500. Earnings by Kodiak fishermen last year were $118 million, a 41 percent increase over 2005.

Alaska’s Northern region has the smallest fishing workforce, but it has grown from 177 to 217 active permit holders and doubled the number of crewmembers. The region’s gross earnings also doubled, nearing $4.2 million in 2010

Bristol Bay’s earnings and fish harvesting employment grew the most over the last six years. In 2010, the Bay’s gross earnings topped $169 million, a 72 percent increase from 2005. Harvesting employment in the same period rose by 381 workers to 7,225.  

The report says Bristol Bay “is in many ways the cultural and ecological crossroads of Alaska. It is home to one of the state’s more diverse populations, a century-old commercial fishery, and a 6,000 year Yupik, Athabascan, Aleut, and Inupiat legacy.”

(Find the complete report at Fish Radio/Facebook or at

Feds like fish

Most people are surprised to learn that 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood comes from federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. Think pollock, cod, flatfish and Bering Sea crab.

Alaska fisheries fared well in a spending bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. A $182 billion appropriations bill funds several programs pushed by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich.

Zeroed out from the budget, at the insistence of Murkowski, was funding for a national marine spatial planning program. Commonly called ocean zoning, the NOAA Fisheries plan would have dictated a patchwork of new rules for all users of the nation’s oceans and coasts. 

Money to fund all important fishery stock assessments got a boost to $67 million, an increase requested by Murkowski from the $51 million last year. Murkowski also pushed for assurances that Pacific Salmon Restoration Funds of $65 million will be allocated beyond threatened West Coast fisheries to include projects in Alaska.

U.S./Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty-related activities were budgeted at $9.6 million. That money helps ensure compliance with Canada in salmon conservation and harvest sharing commitments.

Begich led the charge to fund the $920 million Joint Polar Satellite System to ensure accurate weather forecasts in Alaska, and to pinpoint the location of emergency beacons and relay signals when things go wrong.

Both senators pushed for an increase to $143 million for essential air services, which means more than 40 Alaska airports from Gustavus to Atka will continue to have commercial air service. The spending bill now goes to the U.S. House for approval and then to the president for his signature.

Expo time

A sluggish economy hasn’t put a dent in industry trade shows. For this month’s Pacific Marine Expo, the West Coast’s largest event for 45 years, the Seattle event has continued to build.

“We had a fantastic event last year and the momentum has flowed right into this year,” said Expo organizer Bob Callahan. “Right now booth space and participating companies are up 10 percent to 386 displaying in 63,000 square feet of exhibit space. We have had to add capacity to account for the extra interest. It’s very encouraging to see more people investing in the industry.”

Expo attendance is tracking higher than last year and 8,500 attendees are expected.

Callahan said people in the marine/fishing industry believe that Internet shopping can’t compete with personal encounters.

Among the Expo events: two Alaskans will be honored at the annual National Fishermen’s Highliner Award. Fishing high fives to Dan Falvey of Sitka and Bill Webber, Jr. of Cordova for their proactive industry advocacy, entrepreneurial examples and hard work.

Pacific Marine Expo is Nov. 17 to Nov. 19 at the CenturyLink Field Event Center (Qwest Center) in Seattle. (see more at

 Ditto ComFish

Alaska’s only commercial fishing trade show, ComFish at Kodiak, also has experienced an upswing in interest.

“This year’s show was actually overbooked and we had to scramble to make room for everyone,” said Trevor Brown, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, sponsor of the event.

The ComFish trade show, coming up on its 33rd year in April, features about 50 exhibitors and has the attractive advantage of bringing visitors to one of the nation’s busiest and most diverse year-round fishing ports. Brown said the Kodiak chamber already has received numerous requests from businesses that have not attended ComFish before.

11/10/2011 - 10:41am