The Aleutian Islands arc gracefully from the tip of Alaska across the choppy Bering Sea to the edge of Siberia. This isolated archipelago is home to some of the most productive fishing grounds in the United States. Large seafood processing plants scattered throughout the Aleutian Islands hint at the area’s reputation as an economic powerhouse and a major driver of the nation’s commercial fishing sector.
The Aleutian Islands depend on commercial fishing for jobs, housing, and tax revenue. According to NOAA, the commercial fishing sector employed more than 60 percent of the area’s residents in ocean-related jobs in 2013, many of which include commercial fishing and processing. In the more remote western reaches of the archipelago, the fishing industry employed 2,300 people year round in ocean-related jobs in 2013, with hundreds more joining the commercial fishing workforce during peak seasons.
The impacts of the commercial fishing sector are especially apparent in the towns of Dutch Harbor and Akutan. Located on the island of Unalaska and home to the popular TV show Deadliest Catch, Dutch Harbor leads the nation in seafood landings, with 762 million pounds landed in 2014. The town has held the landings record for 18 years in a row.
Fifty miles to the east, the tiny town of Akutan is a seafood-processing giant with facilities capable of processing up to three million pounds of seafood per day. The plant, operated by Trident Seafood, is the country’s biggest seafood company and a major employer in the Aleutians. The Trident Akutan Plant houses 1,400 employees during peak seasons and specializes in processing species such as Pacific cod, Alaskan king and snow crab, and halibut.
Commercial fishing is vital to the economic well-being of these rural Alaskan towns. In 2013, the sector contributed $89 million in wages and more than $177 million in related goods and services to the economy of the West Aleutian Islands, where 60 percent of residents are employed in ocean-related jobs.
As commercial fishing and processing evolve to satisfy a growing hunger for seafood, towns like Dutch Harbor and Akutan will continue to be economic drivers in a state that has historically struggled with low levels of rural employment. In addition, seafood companies such as Trident are increasing the production of secondary products, including fishmeal, fish oil, and pollock roe. These changes will likely have a positive impact on the economic outlook of rural towns such as Akutan and Dutch Harbor.
Published in March, 2017, by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.