Fish Factor
By Laine Welch


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Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.

Fish Factor/Laine Welch

February 20, 2009

Alaska’s seafood industry puts more people to work than the tourism, forestry, mining and oil/gas industries combined. Unfortunately, most of the money made in the seafood industry continues to flow Outside.

While Alaska residents account for nearly two-thirds of the fishermen out on the water, Alaskans make up only about one-third of the seafood processing work force.    According to the new report “Seafood Industry in Alaska’s Economy by Northern Economics of Anchorage,” in 2006 nonresident seafood processing workers earned nearly $328 million – 82% - of the $400.2 million paid to that sector. About 56% of the $210 million paid to fishermen went to nonresidents.

Data from the state Dept. of Labor show that nonresidents earn a greater share of the fish bucks because they hold more jobs in the lucrative pollock and crab fisheries, while Alaska harvesters are the vast majority in less lucrative or short term fisheries, such as salmon. 

The Aleutians and Pribilof Islands region accounted for 37 percent of the seafood industry’s dockside value in 2007; Southeast and South-central accounted for 21 and 20 percent, respectively; Kodiak at 13%, Bristol Bay at 8% and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region had landings valued at just 1 percent.  

Seafood processing made up more than one-fifth of the annual average employment in Alaska’s “goods producing” sector in 2007, and accounted for almost 80% of all manufacturing employment. No other state has this level of industry concentration.

Alaska seafood processing companies are aggressive about hiring Alaska residents, and the state Labor Department has a website dedicated to seafood industry jobs.   Alaskan workers tend to not apply for seafood processing jobs, however, preferring instead to work in the harvesting sector.

The value of Alaska’s seafood industry has been steadily ticking upwards for the past five years, with total economic output in 2007 at nearly $6 billion. Alaska’s fisheries now account for 62% of all seafood harvested in the U.S.

Capacity is ok -  Processors say they can handle this summer’s entire run of salmon at the world’s biggest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay . That’s according to the annual processor capacity survey released by ADF&G.  Thirteen out of 15 processors responded, accounting for 98% of the salmon purchased last year. One buyer said they would not be in the Bay this summer; another was unsure. 

The 2009 forecast calls for a slightly lower harvest of 24 million sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay.  The 13 processors said they are able to purchase and process 30.7 million fish for the season, with daily capacity of 1.8 million salmon per day, or 100,000 more fish than last year. They also indicated a three percent increase in the Bay’s tender fleet capacity. 13 processors said they are million fish

The “in-Bristol Bay” tender fleet has a holding capacity of 36.4 million pounds, an increase of one million pounds compared to last year. The estimated capacity of the long haul tender fleet is 3.1 million pounds, and the season capacity is 16.6 million pounds.

Still, many fishermen are skeptical about the processors’ ability to handle all the salmon. Last year the bulk of the red run arrived all at once and overwhelmed capacity. Processors imposed trip limits or stopped buying altogether, and frustrated fishermen watched three million catchable reds swim by their nets. A recent study from the Juneau-based McDowell Group found that 37 million fish worth $131 million to fishermen went unharvested in the past five years. 

“We have a consistent pattern in the Bay right at the peak of the run where it’s clear that there is a need out there for a little bit more processing right at the peak,” said  

Cora Crome, the Governor’s fisheries advisor, after last year’s fishery.

Fishermen for years have been pushing for floating processors to be allowed into Bristol Bay to help handle any fish surplus. Crome said the State will work first with local processors to expand capacity, if necessary, and then look to other U.S. or foreign companies. 

Cheers for chums!  Sesame Teriyaki Keta Salmon by Trident Seafoods was the grand prize winner at the Symphony of Seafood bash last week at the Captain Cook hotel in Anchorage.  About 450 people showed up to sample and vote on all the entries, said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, sponsor of the event.

In all, 13 new items made their debut at the event, now in its 16th year of showcasing innovative Alaska seafood products.  Trident’s Teriyaki Keta also took top honors in the Food Service category; second prize went to a Lemon Butter Sole Buffet Kit by Ocean Beauty Seafoods; Smoked Scallops by Gerard and Dominique Seafoods of Woodinville, WA took home third place in that category.

Trident also placed first in the retail category for its Thai Chile (chum) Salmon Fillets; Sweet Apple Salmon on a Cedar Plank by Hartley’s NW Seafood placed second, and Smart Salmon by Shining Ocean of Sumner, WA scored third.

In the smoked category, first place went to Wild Alaska Pink Salmon Sides by Valdez Fisheries Development Association; second place went to Italian Style Salmon Sausage with Whiskey by Aqua Cuisine of Eagle, Idaho (which also won the People’s Choice award.) Smoked Salmon parfait by Gerard and Dominique Seafoods won third place in the smoked category.

The Symphony winners will next head to the International Boston Seafood show in mid-March.

“We provide them with booth space and enter the winning new products into the Boston contest.  They all get good representation at the largest seafood show in the U.S.,” Browning said.

Big deal for byproducts – Scientists and industry stakeholders will gather this week in Portland, OR for a two day symposium called “A Sustainable Future: Fish Processing Byproducts.” (  The work of five researchers from Kodiak’s Fish Tech Center is featured. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation will debut a short   edu-tainment’ DVD on salmon byproducts, ranging from oils to boots and bikinis. (It is my first venture into video, co-produced in Kodiak with David Kaplan and Alf Pryor.)  For a copy, contact

February 13, 2009

Here’s a cost cutting idea for the State to consider as it starts to trim the budget: Buy local.

Alaska spends $20 million on fish feed each year for its salmon hatcheries - feed that comes from South America.  Meanwhile, Alaska seafood processing companies are producing over 200,000 tons of fishmeal each year – for customers in Asia.

Alaska oversees and regulates 35 state and private sector hatcheries, which provide 30% of the statewide total salmon catch each year, and nearly 20% of its value.

Using Alaskan produced hatchery feed would bring savings on two fronts; less  shipping costs and higher growth rates.  Plus, more jobs would be created, taxes would be collected, an industry supported, and a big green star,” said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage.    

Alaska’s world class fisheries produce a lot of leftovers – fish heads, guts, skin, bones and other trimmings, called byproducts.  Each year, roughly 1.25 million metric tons of “industrial wastes” are produced by fish processing operations across Alaska.

It’s the largest volume in North America,” said Dr. Peter Bechtel, a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture research leader at the Univ. of Alaska/Fairbanks.

Alaska’s fisheries could fuel another type of oil boom for Alaska, Bechtel believes.

“Salmon from cold, sea waters provide the biggest punch of the famous omega fatty acids, so important to our health,” he said.  

U.S. sales of omega fish oil supplements have topped $500 million and the market continues to grow. Omegas also are being added to all kinds of foods - from eggs and orange juice, to breads and baby foods.   

Best estimates peg Alaska fish oil production at 10,000 tons per year. Note the value jumped from $4 million in 2000 to $30 million in 2007.

It is difficult to quantify Alaska fish oil and meal production, because the fisheries are divided between state and federal jurisdictions, and there are different databases, said a 2008 report called ‘Alaska Seafood Byproducts: Potential Products, Markets and Competing Products” by Anthony Bimbo for AFDF.

The Dept. of Fish and Game Department database contains information on fishmeal and oil produced from pollock, cod, yellowfin sole and sockeye salmon.  The Federal statistics group all sources of fishmeal and oil together. Bimbo estimates Alaska’s average fishmeal production at 217,000 tons from 2000-2007; there is no data available on production of salmon meal, and it’s not known how much is sold domestically.

When he crunched the numbers, Bimbo called the potential values of Alaska fishmeal and oil “a real eye opener.” Assuming a 5 year average price for meal and oil from 2000 – 2007, Alaska could have produced somewhere between $80 million and $170 million of fishmeal and $7 - $22 million of fish oil. 

Questions? Visit .

First GM approval - It didn’t make headlines but U.S. history was made last week when the Food and Drug Administration approved the first item made from genetically modified materials. It is a drug made from the milk of goats that have been altered to produce a protein that acts as a blood thinner. 

GM creatures are not clones, but rather animals that have had their DNA changed to produce a desirable characteristic. The science is widely used in agriculture to produce higher-yielding or disease-resistant crops, but it is the first time that modified animals have been given the ok for human medical use or consumption. 

Next to get the FDA nod is likely to be salmon. Aqua Bounty Farms in eastern Canada has been waiting more than a decade to get U.S. approval for its modified Atlantic salmon. The fish grow twice as fast as normal salmon, thanks to added genes from cold water fish. The FDA said no labeling is required that tells consumers their food purchases are genetically altered.

Fish bits - Trident’s Thai Chili Salmon Fillets, made from chums, took home the People’s Choice at the Symphony of Seafood Feb. 10 in Seattle. All winners will be announced Feb. 19 at a ‘gala soiree’ at the Captain Cook in Anchorage.

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) has donated nearly $2,000 to help get food to Yukon villages. More than 200 salmon permit holders live in Emmonak and Kotlik.