Bering Sea bounty: commercial fishing exports shore up Dutch Harbor, Akutan economies.

Author:Hollander, Zaz

The bounty of the Bering Sea hits the dock in the Aleutian Islands. Then it goes worldwide.

Dutch Harbor is the busiest fishing port in the country, a title the rough-edged Aleutian community of Unalaska has held for the last 15 years. Akutan, a windblown hamlet 45 miles away, is home to the largest seafood plant in North America, owned by Trident Seafood Corp., a massive operation that draws upwards of 1,000 people to the remote spot at peak processing times.

Between them, the ports of Dutch Harbor and Akutan bring in more value and volume than any commercial fishing port in the United States. Combined, the total volume of seafood landed at Dutch Harbor and Akutan topped 1.1 billion pounds in 2011.

They also account for the majority of the state's seafood exports, a commodity hitting new levels in recent years. Then there's the drier upside of taxes paid by the fishing industry that make up the bulk of local budgets and even boost the state's general fund.

"Overall, it's our only game in town," says Frank Kelty, a former Unalaska mayor who now works as a city resource analyst. "All our different industries are tied to the health of the resource of the Bering Sea."

'This Town is Buzzing'

It's hard to keep track of all the economic impacts tied to commercial seafood in the Port of Dutch Harbor and City of Unalaska. Direct jobs in fishing and processing in 2011 totaled 56 skippers and crew and more than 3,340 processing jobs worth $62 million, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Numerous companies operate shorebased processing plants out of UnalaskaDutch Harbor. Among them are: Alyeska Seafoods Inc.; Unisea Inc.; Western Alaska Fisheries; APICDA Joint Venture Inc.; Quota Share Leasing LLC; Bering Fisheries; and EAG Quota LLC. Plants process nearly 50 different species offish and shellfish--several kinds of crab and salmon, flounder, rockfish and sablefish. Pollock alone brought in a wholesale value of $523 million for Dutch Harbor and Akutan in 2011, according to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game tally. Pacific cod netted more than $93 million, and snow crab more than $90 million.

Long List of Indirect Jobs

"Basically, the economic structure of this town has been built on the fisheries," says Peggy McLaughlin, the City of Unalaska's port director. "Repair services, fueling services, grocery services, radar services, and then the big piece is the cargo and labor services that come with handling all the fish product and supplies."

Two container ships a week call on the city's dock. Private facilities handle container ships as well. Barge calls every year easily top 1,000, McLaughlin says.

The port's revenue stream is directly linked to fishing vessel vendor-support services, she says. The city dock hosts companies that provide cargo...

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