New SWAMC Economic Development Director is Lifelong Kodiak Fisherman


Jay Barrett/KMXT

A life-long Kodiak fisherman is the new director of economic development for the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, an advocacy group for Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island and the Aleutians. Erik O’Brien, who graduated from Kodiak High School in 1998, started his job with SWAMC in Anchorage just a couple weeks ago.

(SWAMC 1 15 sec "Yeah, you know what … to investigate here.")

He is currently working on his master’s degree in economics in Anchorage and previously worked for the state. He says he welcomes the chance to work on developing fisheries, tourism and technology infrastructure in the SWAMC region:

(SWAMC 2 43 sec "I was working for the … Kodiak for obvious reasons.")

O’Brien grew up setnetting for salmon with his family in Uyak Bay, and later fished salmon, herring and halibut from a boat. He says his new employer will allow him to come back for the summer salmon season and work the family sites he now shares with his brothers. With his lifetime of first-hand fishing experience, O’Brien is uniquely situated to help bring economic development to what is the dominant industry in the SWAMC region:

(SWAMC 3 35 sec "On a general level … take those opportunities up.")

The Crew Data Project, which would track the contributions of crewmen in the fisheries, has been championed by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, and is something O’Brien sees as important to pursue, but he doesn’t want to see it overburdening permit-holders with too much paperwork:

(SWAMC 4 24 sec "It’s obviously very important … it’s very important.")

He said one of the first things he was told when he started his job was that SWAMC takes no position on the Pebble Mine, since there are some communities around Lake Iliamna that favor the huge mine for the potential jobs it could provide. Since President Obama removed Bristol Bay from off-shore oil and gas drilling consideration, O’Brien says it’s not currently something he and SWAMC are addressing.


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