One of the topics that we discuss often in our blogs is Alaska’s fishing industry. This industry is one of the oldest established industries in Alaska and continues to be a major source of revenue for the state. Not only is this industry critical to the economic landscape of Alaska, but to the nation as well since fish caught in Alaska makes its way across the entire United States. How did this industry become so critical to Alaska? Well, that question is best answered by taking a look back…way back to the early days of fishing and the canneries that shaped the industry we know today.
CANNERIES IN ALASKA
The first canneries in Alaska were established in the mid-1800s. Commercial fishing was growing at the time and canneries were fast becoming a good source of employment, particularly for immigrants. Immigrants came from all over to fish in the cold waters of Alaska and are credited with building the early fleet of boats and the canneries as well. The canneries became a gathering place or “social hub” for the workers and the culture that was established then continues to influence the industry today. The industry continued to boom and canneries began to emerge all along the Pacific Rim. In fact, in its heyday, the Pacific salmon industry caught and canned enough salmon to feed four pounds of salmon a year to every person in America. (Source: Encounters: Alaska)
Canneries are still in operation today and most are located near the docks and piers where fishing boats will unload. Today’s canneries look much different than those of the early days. They process several types of fish and the advent of machines allow them to process at much higher volume than those of the early days. Working at Alaska’s canneries is also very profitable; most operate on a 24/7 schedule and pay a generous hourly wage plus a generous overtime wage. Cannery jobs are also a great way for aspiring fishermen to break into the industry or for college students to earn money for school.
The NW Salmon Canners Association plays a vital role in the industry. This association is governed by a board of directors whose purpose is to develop policy that protects the workers as well as function in an advisory role when it comes to understanding and implementing regulatory changes. Alaska Air Forwarding Vice President Jeff Dornes is the current president of the Cannery Association. He feels “the Salmon Canners plays an important part in helping seafood processors and associates connected”.
Canneries have always and will continue to play a vital role in the fishing industry by enabling people, far from its borders, to enjoy the bounty of Alaska’s waters.