The state of Alaska, the University of Alaska and representatives from Alaskan fisheries, seafood and marine industries created a plan to increase the number of in state residents working in maritime careers.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports the seafood industry contributing over 78,000 jobs to the Alaskan economy. The waters surrounding Alaska produce 60 percent of the nation’s seafood. The department also reports an estimated $5.8 billion annually is brought in by Alaskan fisheries. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon and the Bering Sea crab and pollock representing some of the largest salmon, crab and whitefish fisheries in the world.
However, there’s a problem. Currently, less than half the crew members in commercial fishing are Alaskan. In a panel hosted by APRN’s Steve Heimel last month he spoke to executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation Julie Decker. She says part of that increase of outside hiring is due to aging workers.
“We have a greying of the fleet, so to speak. And the fleet includes the processors and the marine support sector, and things like plant managers are going into retirement and we don’t have people to fill those jobs yet. The seafood processing part of our maritime sector also sat down and prioritized what jobs not only do we need to fill, but are high paying and that we can target Alaskans as long as they have training and the skills to fill these positions.”
Two years ago, the University of Alaska Fairbanks created the Fishery Seafood Maritime Initiative to find out what the maritime industry needed. The surveys were conducted among commercial fishermen, seafood processors, researchers and maritime business and trade workers. The resulting data led to the Maritime Workforce Development Plan that calls for Alaskans to become educated and trained in these fields.
Education and training are priorities in the Maritime Workforce Development Plan. It states “coordinated training between K-12 educators, regional training centers, and the University of Alaska is needed to prepare high school students for additional training or work in the maritime sector.” Decker says the relationship between the maritime industries and educational facilities is vital because of research.
“We recognize that without our scientists, biologists, we don’t have a fishery. That’s the way the state kind of manages things, so we viewed it as an integral part of the maritime industry. And yes, I think in some ways that the University aligns more easily with scientists, but part of this plan is to align some of the University resources that can align with more of the technical jobs and that’s a really important part of this.”
Shipyard development director for Vigor Alaska Doug Ward also spoke on the panel. He says there is huge potential for year round, high paying employment for Alaskans in the maritime industries that can have global effects.
“I think globally the private investment that is going into ocean sciences and marine research and things is enormous and I think I’ve even heard it said there’s more private investment in ocean sciences than there is in aerospace. It is a big part of the maritime industry. And I know I’ve heard this that we know less about our oceans than we do about the moon and space.”
In 2013, ISER reported 50,000 people working in Bristol Bay during the salmon fishing season. 12,000 jobs were generated directly to fishing and processing. Another 36,000 were created by support industries like marine and airline transportation operations, financial services, local, state and federal government natural resource development works, and tourism and hospitality workers.
The Maritime Workforce Development Plan consists of a five year plan that starts in 2015. The first year’s goals are to build awareness, create occupation advisory boards, engage with state agencies and attract funding for a statewide coordinator to support the maritime initiative effort.