I’ve spent the last 30 years building a family business around the Bristol Bay, Alaska, salmon fishery, making the aluminum boats that fishermen use to harvest fish from the world’s greatest sockeye salmon run.
While southwestern Alaska may seem far off, many people in Washington state understand the deep economic ties between Bristol Bay and the Puget Sound. Just recently, a new economic report produced by the University of Alaska found that the Bristol Bay salmon fishery is worth $1.5 billion in total value and produces nearly 6 percent of all U.S. seafood export value. The fishery employs more than 12,000 people in fishing and processing, concentrated most heavily in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. And another nearly 8,000 jobs across the country are tied to the fishery in industries like grocery retailing, canning, warehousing and restaurants.
All of this economic bounty comes from the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, which averages 37 million fish a year and feeds people around the globe.
To me, the numbers in the economic report aren’t just statistics. I first started building aluminum gillnet boats in 1978, and I worked hard to build All American Marine. Although I sold the company last year, it employs 50 people, and my new business, Strongback Metal Boats, now employs seven people.
But, the jobs and revenue of Bristol Bay don’t stop at my employees and what they spend in Whatcom County. To build our boats, we also order products and services from other vendors and specialists, ordering nuts and bolts and other parts, subcontracting electricians and hydraulic work, purchasing jet pumps from a supplier in Arkansas and engines from a Seattle vendor. Put another way, a lot of people and businesses are affected by one boat, and in the case of Bristol Bay, a rising tide lifts all boats. In Washington there are dozens of small businesses like my own that are tied to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and directly support hundreds of skilled labor jobs.
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