Seawatch: Report: 60% of comm-fish jobs are Alaskan

The McDowell Group, a consulting and research firm based in Alaska and Seattle, has released its annual industry update, and in spite of localized ups and downs the industry remains strong.

Nearly 60% of commercial fishing jobs in the nation come from Alaska. Alaska’s seafood industry puts 58,700 people to work and generate $2.1 billion in wages and $5.6 billion in economic output. Nationally, the seafood industry accounts for 101,000 jobs, $5.6 billion in wages and $13.8 billion in economic output.

Pollock is the largest fishery by volume, contributing 58% of the average 5.8 billion pounds of seafood caught in the state in 2017 and 2018, and salmon catches accounted for 14%.

Flatfish and rockfish made up 13% of the catch volume and cod came in at 12%.

The ex-vessel value of Alaska’s catches totaled $2 billion with salmon accounting for 33% of the value. Halibut, sablefish and crab combined for 24%, Alaska pollock was at 23%, and cod accounted for 11% of the total harvest value.

The first wholesale value, meaning what processors sold the fish for, was $4.7 billion. Salmon led at 37%, with pollock at 31% and cod at 11% of first wholesale.

In terms of products, 85% of Alaska’s seafood is sold frozen. Headed and gutted whole fish make up 41% of the product value, with fillets making up 20%. Only 3% of Alaska’s seafood goes into cans, most of it salmon.

There has been a concerted effort, especially in Bristol Bay, to keep salmon out of cans and on the fresh or fresh frozen market.

About 80% of Alaska seafood is exported, and export value fell 4% in 2018, perhaps in part due to the on-going tariff wars between the Trump administration and China.

Wild-caught seafood is still leading global production at 52% and aquaculture at 46%.

Although Alaska leads the U.S. in seafood production, we produced just 2% of the world’s seafood in 2017.

Some highlights show that Alaska’s 2019 salmon catch is one of the five most valuable ever. And Alaska’s 3.4 billion-pound pollock catch last year was worth $1.5 billion to fishermen last year.

Some lowlights show that cod supplies are at a 20-year low and declining while red king crab harvests are at a 50-year low.

Alaska accounts for just 10-15% of global red king crab supply and less than 10% of snow crab supply. Much of the rest comes from Russia.

Sablefish prices are down 25% since 2017 and export value is down 30%.

Current harvest levels for halibut are just 20% of catches in the early 2000s.

The biggest uncertainties facing Alaska’s seafood industry stem from changing ocean conditions and ongoing trade disputes, according to the report.

In spite of the closure for Pacific cod in the federal waters of the Gulf of Alaska, there will be a limited fishery of 5.6 million pounds in state waters, within 3 miles of shore, divided between five areas: Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik and South Alaska Peninsula, according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The state-waters quota is based on a 35% reduction from the maximum prescribed harvest limits in regulation.

The Prince William Sound quota of 437,425 pounds is divided between pot, jig and longline gear.

The others are all divided by pot and jig, with South Alaska Peninsula getting the lion’s share of the total allocation at 2.14 million pounds, Chignik allotted 1.06 million pounds, Kodiak with 1.51 million pounds and Cook Inlet getting 454,513 pounds.

In deciding to proceed with a state fishery, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy stated, “I recognize the balance between conservation and opportunity to fish. I trust ADF&G to closely monitor and manage each state-waters fishery conservatively to avoid overharvest yet provide our fishermen the opportunity to fish and our coastal communities needed tax revenues.”

For more information on season openings and pot limits, contact Homer ADF&G at 907-235-8191 or Kodiak at 907-486-1840.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com

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