October is National Seafood Month, making this the perfect time to dive into a look at the robust systems supporting the fleets that catch our fish. This unique network of professionals, ranging from shipbuilders to pipe fitters to marine electricians and more helps fuel the local economy and offers a range of career options.
When fishing fleets, based at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 91 on the Seattle waterfront in Interbay, return laden with their catch, a single ship might carry fillet blocks, loin blocks, surimi, roe, fish meal and fish oil, says Kelli Goodwin, senior manager, Maritime Operations at the Port of Seattle. These products are separated and loaded into export carriers, on-site freezer cold storage, rail cars (for fish oil) or long-haul trucks for domestic distribution.
“The next fish stick or fish fillet sandwich you eat, likely was caught by a vessel that calls Seattle home,” says Goodwin.
Jobs supporting fisheries
According to the Port’s most recent Economic Impact Report in 2017, an estimated 7,200 jobs directly supported commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle and gross earnings for our fleet in Alaska’s fisheries totaled more than $1 billion – 44% of all gross earnings from the North Pacific Fisheries. Overall, fishing vessels based at Port of Seattle moorage facilities supply 13% of the total U.S. commercial fishing harvest by tonnage!
The different positions that keep the fishing industry running seem almost endless, Goodwin says. Besides the crews on the vessels and workers in the shipyards, there are many more. Those workers include naval architects, shipwrights, pipe fitters, painters, administrative staff and safety professionals. Occupations that work under the equipment manufacturing umbrella include net manufacturers, engine builders; fish factory equipment inside the vessels that moves, sorts and slices the fish; winch manufacturers and more.
Maritime is a vibrant, exciting and vital industry in the Pacific Northwest, says Goodwin. Jobs and careers exist to suit a variety of skills and interests. You can work with your hands, spend time with high-tech equipment and computers, or work with people. Maritime careers also pay well – about $20,000 more that the Washington state average.
Another entity in the local fishing arena is the Groundfish Forum, a fishing industry trade association representing five member companies operating 19 vessels. Executive Director Chris Woodley says these ships catch and process fish at sea, including yellowfin sole, rock sole, flathead sole, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch and Pacific cod. All this seafood is sustainably harvested from the cold, pristine waters of the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska.
“From the deck to the wheelhouse to the processing line, operating our catcher processor vessels requires a variety of dedicated crew members with vastly different skill sets,” says Woodley. “Those include the fish processing workers, U.S. Coast Guard licensed personnel, refrigeration specialists, marine electricians, fish crews, pursers, cooks and others.”
Investing in the future
These jobs strengthen the area’s economy, but so do many other aspects of fisheries. Woodley says to safely produce exceptional quality fish products in a highly competitive international market, Groundfish Forum member companies have committed over $300 million to new vessel construction and retrofits.
One example of new vessel construction in Washington state, a $75 million boat, represented the largest private shipbuilding investment in the last 12 years. These new vessels are highly efficient, which ensures that these nutritious fish can be sustainably harvested with a low carbon footprint – lower than chicken, beef or plant-based food products, Woodley says.
“After 9-10 months of fishing in Alaska, our vessels return to Puget Sound every fall for an extensive shipyard period,” says Woodley. “From late October through January, the ships are usually hauled out of the water for maintenance. Annually our fleet spends about $32 million during this time.”
Seafood’s sustainability story
One of the world’s largest certified sustainable fisheries is the Wild Alaska Pollock fishery. It’s often found in surimi, fish tacos and fish sticks. It’s a true “super” fish, low in fat, rich in protein, heart-healthy and full of omega-3 fatty acids.
A recent study, says Goodwin, revealed Wild Alaska Pollock holds the smallest carbon footprint of almost any other protein on the planet.
“Our fishers take sustainability very seriously and consider the protection of Wild Alaska Pollock, and our environment, their highest priorities,” says Goodwin. Wild Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, yellowfin sole, rock sole, flathead sole, Atka mackerel and Pacific Ocean perch are all certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council and the Responsible Fishery Management Program.
These are reasons enough to eat more fish.
Join the Seattle Propeller Club in celebrating our thriving fishing industry. For more than 100 years, Seattle has been the home of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet. For recipes, news and events, visit PacificNorthwestSeafood101.com.