Economic Reports Provide Snapshot of Alaska Commercial Fisheries

Two current fishery reports provide a portrait of the economic values and employment provided to Alaska by the seafood industry. On the national level for 2011, NOAA Fisheries released its annual report on Fisheries of the United States, and Alaska continues to play a major role in the nation’s commercial fisheries. At the state level, a monthly report by the Alaska Department of Labor looks at Alaska’s fishermen – harvests, earnings and their second jobs. In these reports a couple of items jump out as interesting facts about the seafood industry in Alaska and the nation.

The United States seafood industry produces three percent of the edible fish products consumed globally. As a nation we import 90 percent of the seafood we consume annually, with a per capita consumption of 15 pounds. This means that on average Americans consume 1.5 pounds of seafood harvested in this country and eat 13.5 pounds of imported seafood, most likely from China. Anglers who harvest and consume a day’s catch can match the output of edible seafood product provided to them on a yearly basis by domestic harvesters. Locally, the Kenai River generates approximately 6 million pounds of salmon for consumption via the personal use and rod / reel fisheries, or an amount of seafood that 100,000 families of four would normally consume in a year.

U.S. consumers spent an estimated $83.4 billion for fishery products in 2011, which includes $56.5 billion in expenditures at food service establishments, $25.7 billion in retail sales for home consumption, and $1.3 billion for industrial fish products. The U.S. seafood industry contributed $42.2 billion (in value added) to the U.S. Gross National Product, through production and marketing of a variety of fishery products for the domestic and foreign markets.

In Alaska, approximately 50,000 jobs are created by the seafood industry, 30,000 as harvesters and 20,000 as processors. Of these jobs, more than three out of four jobs are summer seasonal work, performed predominately by young men, many as non-residents, often as a new hire. Of the harvesters who hold limited entry permits, one in three has a second job for employment. Of those, the majority are salmon permit holders, most likely due to the seasonal nature of the salmon fisheries. One out of two salmon set net permit holders have a second job, and in Southcentral earn $41,000 in wages and salary in non-fishing jobs. Locally, Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries have substantially lower yields and substantially higher rates of permits not fished than comparable salmon fisheries elsewhere in Alaska.

Background information In Fisheries of the United States 2011 NOAA Fisheries reports that United States commercial harvests (4.5 million metric tons) account for three percent of the global harvest of world commercial fishery landings and aquaculture production (148.5 million metric tons). China was the leading nation in both fishery landings and aquaculture production accounting for 35 percent of the total harvest.

In 2011 Alaska remained a national leader for its commercial fishery landings with 36 percent of the U.S. total – about $1.9 billion of the overall $5.3 billion in ex-vessel values, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Commercial fisheries in Alaska harvest more than 30 species including crab, salmon and groundfish, with salmon ranked #2 in value at $618 million (Alaska accounted for 95 percent of the U.S. harvest of salmon), and halibut ranked at #8 with $213 million. Finfish accounted for 85 percent of the total landings, but only 49 percent of the total value. Half of the top ten U.S. ports for value are in Alaska: Dutch Harbor – Unalaska, Kodiak, Akutan, Naknek – King Salmon and Sitka, with Seward, Cordova, Petersburg and Ketchikan in the top 20.

The U.S. total supply (landings + imports – exports) of edible fishery products was 12.1 billion pounds (7.9 billion pounds landings, 10.8 billion pounds imports, 6.6 billion pounds exports). The United States imported just under 90 percent of its edible fishery products consumed in 2011.

For the 2011 U.S. marine recreational finfish catch (including fish kept and fish released) on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts (including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) was an estimated 345 million fish taken on an estimated 69 million fishing trips. The harvest (fish kept or released dead) was estimated at 140 million fish weighing over 201 million pounds. At this time, NOAA Fisheries does not collect or collate economic data on the U.S. marine recreational fisheries.

In its November 2012 edition of Alaska Economic Trends the Alaska Department of Labor reports that commercial fishing in Alaska employs more than 30,000 permit holders and crew each year, including about 9,900 permit holders who made at least one landing in 2011 and more than 22,000 crew members. The seafood processing industry employs about 20,000 people, of which 75 percent are non-resident, and more than 50 percent were new hires in 2011. Salmon harvesting and processing represent more than half of the total jobs annually, with peak seasonal employment in June, July and August, where it represents 80 percent of the total summer employment.

Three gear types accounted for almost 60 percent of the harvesting jobs in Alaska for 2011. Longliners primarily caught halibut, sablefish and other groundfish, while gillnetters and set netters targeted salmon. Longliners had steady, significant employment for most of the year while most gillnetters and set netters had seasonal employment in the summer. Most fish harvesters are male (85 percent), with an average age of 47 (roughly twice as many permit holders are between the ages of 45 and 60 as there were between 30 and 44). Crew members are mostly male and young; with an average age distribution centered around 21.

Because of the seasonal nature of the employment, especially for salmon, many fish harvesters often hold more than one job. About one in three permit holders and crew members held a second job. Permit holders earned more on average ($29,000 in wages) than crew ($18,650 in wages) in their other jobs.

Thirty-three percent of all salmon harvesters had known wage and salary jobs, and represent more than 75 percent of the permit holders known to have held a second job. Salmon harvesters earned $65.6 million of the $84.5 million payroll earnings of all permit holders, while 50 percent of all set net permit holders held payroll jobs and earned $41 million in wages and salary. Those in Southcentral, as a group, earned the most in non-fishing jobs and had the highest average annual earnings at more than $41,000.