Fisheries Employment in 2020

COVID-19 has upended many industries, sending energy prices down, for instance. But the news isn’t all bad for Kodiak’s fishing sector. KMXT’s Jared Griffin takes a look at the new employment report from the Alaska Department of Labor about seafood processing.

Now that the traditionally busy commercial fishing season is over, how have Kodiak’s fisheries fared so far this year?

Like in the theme song from The Facts of Life, it’s a mix of the good with the bad.

According to the November 2020 edition of Alaska Economic Trends, “Seafood processors saw the costs of doing business skyrocket this year as the pandemic created widespread health and safety concerns. Unfortunately, this disruption came just as the industry was preparing to hire for the summer salmon season.”

With the state declaring fish processing an “essential service,” that meant that processors had to pay for hotels to quarantine out-of-state workers in, plus shell out over $150 per test. In many cases, processors had to invest thousands of dollars into each employee before work began.

And the strategy seemed to work, since 90% of all COVID-19 cases in the fishing industry have been residents.

Before the pandemic, employment in seafood processing was up from 2019, with the Pacific cod season adding over 5,000 jobs.

But April’s job count was 1,000 jobs lower than April 2019. And as the season progressed, employment overall dropped 13%.

Added to that was this year’s weak salmon harvest, which brought in 15% less than its five-year average.

But most fisheries have been losing jobs since 2015, down almost 1,000 jobs over the last five years. How does this break down for different species harvests?

Salmon is down, and crab harvesting has lost about a quarter of its workforce. Halibut has declined only slightly, but is holding somewhat steady with about 1,000 jobs.

Herring and groundfish employment have taken the hardest hits since 2015 with steady decline.

But shellfish has seen 20% growth, and black cod continues to add jobs.

After hitting historic highs in 2015, employment in Kodiak fisheries has seen a steep decline, primarily due to fewer groundfish harvesters in the spring.

All in all, Kodiak fisheries are used to volatile seasons, but according to the Dept. of Labor, this was a season like no other. With $50 million in CARES act relief on its way to Alaska fisheries, they’re still not sure how employment will be affected by the changing market, decrease in worldwide demand, and future pandemic mitigation plans.

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