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Alaska fisheries employment on the rise, to nearly 8,200 jobs

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
A crabbing vessel from Discovery Channel's 'The Deadliest Catch' Courtesy Discovery Channel

Employment in the seafood harvesting industry is growing. A new report from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, posted in the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends, shows that monthly jobs in seafood harvesting rose from 8,067 in 2011 to 8,189 in 2012.

Of that total, the salmon fisheries dominated in monthly employment, with 4,551 jobs, compared to 1,252 jobs in groundfish fisheries, 974 in halibut fisheries, 593 in crab fisheries, 502 in sablefish fisheries, 184 in miscellaneous shellfish fisheries and 128 in herring fisheries, according to the report by Jack Cannon and Josh Warren.

While salmon generates more harvesting jobs than any other fishery, groundfish is the state's largest fishery in terms of both value and volume, with a relatively small number of large boats landing large quantities of those fish, mostly pollock, without need of proportionate increases in manpower.

Commercial fish harvesters -- including the approximately 31,800 who fished in 2012 -- are considered self-employed. Because they do not draw a typical salary and are not generally covered by unemployment insurance, they can't be tracked in the usual ways, the writers note. To fill that gap, economists use other sources and methods to measure overall employment in that sector of the state economy.

Of the 31,800 people who fished in Alaska in 2012, about 22,000 were crew members and 9,800 were permit holders. Crew tended to have an average age of 34, and more than a third between the ages of 21 and 30. Permit holders, by contrast, were on average 47 years old.

Eighty-six percent of the harvesters were male.

Fishing employment peaks in summer months, with 57 percent of harvesting jobs statewide occurring between June and August, and the majority of this summer employment is in salmon fisheries.

In 2012, for example, monthly harvesting employment peaked in July at more than 24,750 jobs, and the average for all fisheries from June through August was more than 20,000 jobs, with 80 percent of those jobs in salmon fishing.

Averaged over the year, monthly jobs were highest in Southeast Alaska, followed by the Aleutians and Southcentral Alaska. While summer employment in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutians does not match Bristol Bay's high summer employment, those areas have more fishing outside of summer months, leading to higher annual numbers.

Strictly by gear type, the average monthly jobs tallied in 2012 fisheries included 1,706 gillnet, 1,552 longline, 1,433 set net, 892 seine, 863 pot gear, 679 troll, 405 trawl and 126 diving gear, plus 531 in other miscellaneous gear types.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development sent surveys in February to 9,161 permit holders to determine maximum crew requirements by month. OF the 35 percent who responded to the survey, almost 94 percent replied indicating that they had fished in 2012.

The 2013 survey also asked permit holders to identify months they had hired crew for preparation and cleanup work. Average monthly employment was calculated by finding the number of additional crew each permit holder used. Collecting prep and cleanup employment is new to the survey, the authors noted. For this cycle, that employment has not been combined with active fishing jobs, so the reported monthly estimates are probably low. In the future, economists may refine methods for collecting that information, and combine active fishing and prep/cleanup jobs.

The report also noted that fish harvesters often have off-season employment, with about 30 percent of the nearly 9,800 permit holders and 27 percent of the 22,000 crew reporting payroll wages in Alaska in 2012. This means their names appeared on some employer's payroll outside of fishing, but doesn't include anything earned out of state, through federal government work, or other self-employment.

Harvesters earned more than $191 million in 2012 for those other jobs, or an average of $21,722. Permit holders as a group earned an average of $29,517 in other wages for the year, while crew earned an average of $17,911 in other wages.

Still another 6,918 permit holders, and 16,082 crewmembers had no other jobs. The complete report is online.

The preceding article originally appeared in The Cordova Times, and is reprinted here with permission. You can reach Cordova Times Staff with comments and suggestions at cdvtimes(at)thecordovatimes.com