By Laine Welch
More Alaskans are taking to the fishing life, as indicated by upward ticks in harvesting jobs for three years running.
That’s according to the November Alaska Economic Trends by the State Labor Department, which provides a look at the numbers of “boots on deck” by region and fishery. A first: economists Jack Cannon and Josh Warren also looked at how much time is put into fishing pre- and post-season prep work and clean-up, as well as what kinds of jobs fishermen have during the off times.
Some highlights: On average, each month last year, 8,189 fishermen plied the waters of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea; an increase of 122 jobs from the year before, and up 318 jobs since 2010.
Of the 31,800 people who fished in Alaska last year, about 22,000 were crew members and 9,800 were permit-holders. The crew tends to be young, with an average age of 34; more than one-third were between 21 and 30. Permit-holders were considerably older, at age 47 on average.
In terms of average monthly jobs, more than 56 percent were in salmon harvesting; groundfish and halibut fisheries followed at 15 and 12 percent, respectively.
Statewide, 57 percent of harvesting jobs take place between June and August.
By far, most of the harvesters were male at 86 percent; 85 percent of permit-holders were men, as were 88 percent of crew members.
Averaged over the year, monthly fishing jobs were highest in Southeast Alaska (2,299); followed by the Aleutians (1,661); Southcentral (1,408); Bristol Bay (1,365); Kodiak (881) and the Yukon Delta at 372 jobs.
A fishing job demands a lot of gear work and clean-up before and after each trip or season. In a survey, economists asked more than 9,000 permit-holders to specify the time their crew spent on this “work on the edges;” it generated an additional monthly average of 385 jobs.
About a third of both halibut and salmon permit-holders worked other jobs last year. At the other end of the scale, 10 percent or less of groundfish and sablefish harvesters held a payroll job in 2012. That’s due — in part — to longer fishing seasons.
In a final question, permit-holders were asked: “What factors could allow/cause you to increase the number of crew used to fish this permit?” A 60 percent survey return produced these top answers: Increase in catch: 71.3 percent; Increase in fish dock price: 41.2 percent; Advancing age: 38.4 percent.
Crabbers made quick work of their red king crab season at Bristol Bay, taking the roughly 8-million-pound quota in a month. The advance price of $6.35 per pound will add up to nearly $50 million at the docks. The Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery should wrap up by mid-December. Golden king crab fishing continues along the Aleutian Chain and winding down in Southeast. Likewise, the pot shrimp and sea cucumber fisheries are also tapering off. It’s still slow going for P- cod fishermen in the Gulf; they’ve taken only 2.4 million pounds of their 8.2-million-pound quota.
Lots of fish meetings in the lineup:
The industry will get a first peek at potential halibut catch numbers when the International Pacific Halibut Commission holds its interim meeting Dec. 4-5 in Seattle. Final decisions will be made Jan. 13-17 at the IPHC annual meeting, also in Seattle.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Dec. 7-9 in Anchorage. Among other things, they will set catch quotas for next year’s groundfish catches in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
The State Board of Fisheries meets Dec. 5-6 in Anchorage to take up Chignik fisheries. A focus on Lower Cook Inlet fish issues will follow Dec. 8-11. All fish meetings will be webcast.
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