By Jenny Neyman
An economic analysis of the value of commercial fishing in Southcentral Alaska held some surprises, even for the organization contracting the study.
The Alaska Salmon Alliance, with offices in Kenai and Anchorage, worked with the McDowell group to study the impact of commercial fishing in the region and took the results to the Legislature, with executive director Arni Thompson giving a presentation to the House Fisheries Committee on Thursday.
“We knew that there really was a rather cohesive industry in Southcentral but we knew that the public and the Legislature were rather unaware of it. … We found, the results, the numbers, it showed were rather astounding. We, ourselves, were unaware of the total impacts of the seafood industry,” Thompson said.
Commercial seafood is a $1.2 billion industry in Southcentral, Thompson said.
Southcentral is home to 5,730 resident commercial fishermen and crew, with another 4,590 jobs in seafood processing, and 520 jobs in hatcheries, fisheries management and other aspects. Total labor income in the region as of 2013 was estimated at $411 million.
“And we all know how important jobs are particularly now with the decline that’s occurring in the oil and gas industry,” he said.
Many of the top six communities in Southcentral showing the most impact from commercial fishing were obvious.
Homer, with 1,670 commercial seafood-dependent jobs, is the top fishing port in the region in terms of earnings for resident commercial fishermen, with $83 million worth of gross earnings. That makes it No. 2 in the state.
“Homer is a thriving marine port in Southcentral Alaska. Right about 30 percent of the resident workforce is involved in the seafood industry in one way or another,” Thompson said.
Cordova is another standout, with 1,470 commercial seafood-dependent jobs and a total labor income of $73 million.
“Almost 50 percent of the residents in Cordova are involved in the fishing and seafood industry,” he said. “… Cordova, with as small a total population as it has, was ranked No. 7 in the United States in landed value of seafood.”
The Kenai-Soldotna area is lower on the list, with about 3,300 commercial seafood workers. Of those, about 1,200 jobs are local commercial fishermen and crew, and about 900 jobs are in processing. The total labor income in the area is about $51 million.
However, two of the biggest homeports in Southcentral for people working in the commercial seafood industry don’t even have actual fishing ports. Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna areas are home to people working 2,880 jobs in commercial fishing.
“Interestingly, as we all know, Wasilla does not have its own fishing port. Anchorage, actually, really doesn’t have a fishing port, either. Anchorage and Mat-Su are home to more commercial fishermen than any other Alaska community,” Thompson said.
Overall, Thompson said the commercial seafood industry in Southcentral employs 7,600 residents of the region.
“The seafood industry has a bright future in Southcentral and Alaska, in general, and can coexist with and complement other regional industries,” he said.
The report is available at http://www.aksalmonalliance.org.