Hawaii & Alaska
A pair of fishing vessels pass in Kodiak harbor. One of Alaska’s main fishing hubs with one of the few year-round processing workforces, Kodiak is in the crosshairs of harvest cuts across multiple fisheries as well as grappling with workforce challenges for training and applicants. (Alaska Journal of Commerce file photo)

AK - Alaska seafood industry faces challenges beyond harvest cuts: its workforce

Amid ongoing declines of salmon returns, restrictions on harvest and collapsing groundfish stocks, Alaska seafood industry experts are concerned about something else too: the workforce.

The Alaska seafood workforce, both on boats and on shore, is aging, and fewer young people are going into careers in the industry. While the graying of the fishing fleet is in part because of the high cost of entry for permits, boats and equipment, there is also a looming shortage in processing plant workers.

Jay Stinson, president of the Alaska Research Consortium, a research organization supporting fisheries and marine science in the North Pacific, told the House Fisheries Committee on Jan. 23 that about 75 percent of the state’s manufacturing workforce is in the seafood industry. However, those workplaces are changing from what they were a few decades ago, when unskilled labor dominated.

“(Processors are) moving from the old slime line, which was unskilled labor, to a technical skill set requiring computer sciences, robotic operators and programmers, maintenance people, things like that,” he said. “Those skill sets are in really big demand, but there’s no place in the state to get that training.”

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