SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Seafood processing workers needed in coastal communities

By Laine Welch


June 25, 2007

Hundreds of seafood processing workers are still needed in coastal communities all across Alaska. Most of the jobs are entry level but many demand skills that go far beyond the slime line.

"There are a lot of skilled jobs that can set the stage for a career in the seafood industry that pay decent wages and don't demand a college degree," said Laurie Fuglvog, an employment analyst with the state Department of Labor (DOL).

Jobs include quality control technicians, cooks, electricians, plant and production managers, refrigeration mechanics and engineers, machinists, and fresh fish coordinators. Positions can be located at shore based seafood plants and aboard at sea processing vessels, and when fisheries wrap up in one region, workers can be relocated to another through the Traveling Seafood Workforce program.

Many seafood companies cover most transportation costs and room and board for their workers, Fuglvog said.

"Each company has slightly different rules, but usually if you're in a remote area you get a pretty good deal and it's a great way to save money because there's no place to spend it," she said with a laugh.

Fuglvog added that along with seasonal or year round career opportunities, seafood industry jobs provide a good training ground for younger Alaskans.

"It's a great opportunity for high school seniors or graduates to see different parts of Alaska and establish a work history," she said.

The availability of seafood industry jobs plus the opportunity to visit Alaska lure an increasing amount of foreign students each summer, Fuglvog said, but the state DOL works with seafood companies to attract and retain Alaska workers. Unisea, for example, formed an Alaska Hire committee several years ago to boost resident employment around the state.

According to 2005 DOL data, seafood harvesting and processing accounted for 14.6 percent of all private sector jobs in Southeast Alaska, 18.9 percent in the Gulf Coast and 51.9 percent throughout Southwest Alaska.

Get more information on seafood processing jobs at any state job center, or apply on line at . Contact a Seafood Employment Specialist toll free at (800-473- 0688).

The Labor Department's Division of Business Partnerships also offers grants totaling $4 million this year under its State Training and Employment Program (STEP). The awards, which are usually limited to a maximum of $300,000 per applicant, are open to both non-profit and for profit organizations.

Last year, for example, Ocean Beauty received a grant to provide training on specialized fish processing equipment for workers in Kodiak.

The goal of STEP is to employ Alaskans in "critical demand" occupations in priority industries of health care, construction, information technology, education, natural resource development, transportation, hospitality and tourism and seafood harvesting and processing.

Requests for grant applications are posted on the DOL web site in the Spring and Fall.
Contact is Christine Sanderford at 907-269-2002.

Scallop scoops

A handful of big boats dropped dredges on the fishing grounds July 1 as Alaska's annual Weathervane scallop fishery got underway. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches.

Historically, scallop fishing began in Alaska in the late 1960's around Kodiak and Yakutat and soon expanded to Prince William Sound, the Alaska Peninsula and the Bering Sea. The fishery runs through mid-February, except at Kamishak Bay near Homer where scalloping runs from mid August through October.

Just ten boats have permits to fish for scallops in Alaska, although fewer usually are on the grounds. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make repeated tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery has 100 percent observer coverage and strict bycatch caps.

There is a statewide harvesting cap of 1.2 million pounds of shucked meats ­ meaning the, large adductor muscle that pulls the two shell halves together. Last year, Alaska scallop landings totaled 487,000 pounds. At an average price of $7.86 a pound (up more than $2 from previous years), the scallop fishery was worth nearly $4 million at the docks.

It's scallops that each year nudge Dutch Harbor out of the nation's top spot in terms of the value of seafood landings. Dutch boasts the biggest deliveries of any port, but the value goes to New Bedford, Massachusetts. More than 29 million pounds of shucked meats were harvested there in 2005, valued at over $223 million.

Washington, DC watch

Protections for our nation's streams and wetlands were watered down by the Bush Administration last week. The New York Times reported that guidelines for enforcing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling governing wetlands were altered after lobbying from special interest groups, notably large cattle farmers and coal producers. Opponents said the altered rules will leave thousands of wetlands and streams unprotected and could have a profound effect on how federal laws under the Clean Water Act are applied.

At a time when concerns over food safety are at an all time high - the Food and Drug Administration is poised to relax labeling requirements on irradiated foods. Since 1986 the FDA has allowed food companies to zap certain foods like spices, ground beef and poultry with high energy rays to kill harmful bacteria. The irradiated products must be identified and labeled with a seedling inside a dashed green circle. Irradiation does not make food radioactive and the technique has been endorsed by public health and medical groups around the world. But the term spooks consumers and most food makers have shied away from the technology. Now the FDA is moving forward on a petition by the food industry to do away with the labels, and expand irradiation to bagged salads, lunch meats and other ready to eat foods. The Center for Food Safety opposes the measure saying irradiation can significantly degrade nutrients and generate potentially unsafe byproducts.

Finally, saying the 'stage is set and pre-wired for action' - the White House Council on Environmental Quality last week pushed President Bush's commitment to move forward fast with offshore aquaculture expansion in U.S. waters. A hearing by the House Fisheries Subcommittee is set for July 12.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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Ketchikan, Alaska