Processing Alaska's Marine Bounty: A big-picture look at the billion-dollar industry.

Author:Simonelli, Isaac Stone
 
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A robust seafood processing industry in Alaska brings value not only to the fish being processed but the communities doing the work. When looking at the Last Frontier's seafood industry, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that nearly all those working in it are daringly emptying crab traps or scooping thousands of pounds of salmon out of the ocean. But the reality is that a significant number of jobs created in the industry come from the seafood processing sector.

Statewide Overview

Of the about 58,700 workers directly employed by the Alaska seafood industry, about 26.000 of them work in the seafood processing sector, according to the 2019 Economic Value of Alaska's Seafood Industry study prepared for Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute by the McDowell Group.

The broader seafood industry directly employs more workers than any other private industry in Alaska, is the third-largest overall job creator in the state--including multiplier effects--and accounts for about 8 percent of total statewide employment, according to the report.

It goes on to point out that seafood is an economic cornerstone of many Alaska communities with more than 21,500 rural Alaskan residents directly employed by the industry in 2017-2018.

The impacts on individual coastal communities vary widely depending on what processing plants are set up in the region and what fish they process, as those that focus on only a few species tend to be more seasonal.

"Kodiak is probably the least seasonal place," state economist Neal Fried explains. "They have a pretty busy processing season all year long. And, as a result, they have the lowest nonresident processing workforce in the state because it's a place where it happens all year long and where you can make a living."

The flip side of the seafood processing model in Kodiak is that of Bristol Bay.

"Some of those processors are only open two or three months out of the year but are still important taxpayers. Both as a property taxpayer and the fish taxpayer," Fried says, also noting that processing plants not only provide substantial direct employment for those processing the fish but also for maintenance people and many others in the community.

The McDowell Group reports the economic impact on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands is higher than other communities despite the relatively short season.

With 8,700 workers--full-time work equivalent of 4,800--in seafood processing plants in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Islands, labor income for those regions is about $235 million annually. The total economic output is about $1.4 billion.

Kodiak processors, which operate nearly year-round and handle a variety of products from salmon to sea cucumbers, generate about $50 million in labor income, just ahead of the $47 million created in Bristol Bay.

Despite...

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