Alaska Editorial: More than oil

  • Wednesday, February 3, 2016 11:18pm
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Alaskans know the importance of oil to the state’s economy and state government coffers.

No question. Oil is huge.

But with all the talk of oil, it’s easy to overlook other parts of Alaska’s economy

Commercial fisheries, for example. Fisheries anchored many Alaska communities years before the start of oil production. And, they’ve continued to do so after oil began flowing through the pipeline.

The continuing economic contribution of fisheries is perhaps more apparent in coastal Alaska communities such as Ketchikan than in the Railbelt and other areas that rely more heavily on the oil industry.

Ketchikan — the “Salmon Capitol of the World” — and other Southeast Alaska communities such as Petersburg, Sitka, Craig and Wrangell with long histories in fishing are especially aware of industry’s presence.

It provides primary jobs in fishing itself, and supports many secondary jobs in support sectors. And, with the addition of shellfish and other non-salmon fisheries, the contributions of the industry now are year-round.

So, what are the economic contributions of Alaska fisheries?

Unfortunately, unlike oil, which seems to be quantified daily, fisheries’ economic contributions are not so immediately apparent. Still, a report commissioned by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and published in December by the Juneau-based research firm McDowell Group sheds some valuable light on the state and region economic value of commercial fisheries.

Statewide, seafood caught in Alaska waters during 2014 generated about $1.9 billion for harvesters. That seafood had a first retail value of $4.2 billion, according to “The Economic Value of Alaska’s Seafood Industry” report.

Of the approximately 31,580 commercial fishermen active in 2014, about 17,600 were Alaska residents — and they had a total gross income of $735 million.

That’s on the fishing side. The processing sector had about 25,000 workers with a total income of $460 million during 2014, while other jobs related to the industry added about 2,900 workers and an income of $204 million, according to the report.

Here in Southeast Alaska, seafood is the biggest private sector industry, states the report: “The seafood industry creates nearly 10,000 (full-time equivalent) jobs in Southeast Alaska, including multiplier effects, and almost $1 billion in economic output.”

That’s substantial. What’s more, that’s just commercial fishing and doesn’t include recreational and charter fisheries.

The fish-focused activity along the coasts and rivers of Alaska produce a tremendous return for the state, not only in economic activity but in cultural and recreational aspects. With good management, we can look forward to these contributions to Alaska life for many years to come.

Oil is mightily important. The state government and much of the state’s economic health depends on oil.

But it’s good to recognize that it’s not the only thing in Alaska.

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