Commercial Fishing Industry
Fishing boat on the bay. Ginger Duncan photo.
Today, a thriving, year-round commercial fishing industry is the economic engine that drives Kodiak. Consistently ranked as one of the top three fishing ports in the US, Kodiak is homeport to more than 700 vessels. The site of the former Naval Air Station is now the country's largest Coast Guard Station, servicing the fishing fleet, freighter traffic and recreational boaters in the North Pacific.
History of the Seafood Industry on Kodiak Island
Since the early 1800s, Kodiak's economy has been based primarily on the fishing industry. The advent of Russian occupation, with the introduction of salt, paved the way for commercial salmon harvesting. The first salmon cannery was built on the Karluk spit in 1882 to take advantage of the huge sockeye runs. By 1889, 5 canneries were operating on the mouth of the Karluk river. Between 1887 and 1928 records indicate that the sockeye harvest ranged between 1,004,500 (1887) to 4,826,200 fish (1901). Intense competition led to the expansion of commercial fishing into other species of salmon. From 1984 to 1994 the average ex-vessel value of the salmon harvest has been $41.4 million. A record harvest of 39 million salmon occurred during 1993 in the Kodiak Management Area (KMA). Kodiak's highly productive salmon industry is due in part to the fact that there are over 800 salmon streams in the KMA.
Before 1950, most Kodiak processing facilities were devoted to salmon. In 1950, 60,000 pounds of king crab were landed and processing capacity was added by building new plants and expanding older ones. The king crab fishery became a major force in Kodiak's economy from 1950 to 1959 as the catch increased from 60,000 to 21 million pounds. In 1968 the City of Kodiak became the largest fishing port in the United States in terms of ex-vessel value. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s when harvest levels began to fall, several processors made the decision to relocate to Unalaska and Dutch Harbor to be closer to the crab supply. This diverted part of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island harvest away from Kodiak. The 1982/83 season king crab harvest of 8.7 million pounds was the lowest in 24 years, followed by a closure of the fishery by the Department of Fish and Game due to poor stock condition.
The 1950s also marked the beginning of the Kodiak Shrimp fishery, with a harvest of 31,886 pounds in 1958. The fishery grew rapidly to an annual catch of 10 to 12 million pounds in the early 1960s. The fishery slowed when shore plants and the fishing fleet were badly damaged by the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave, but then grew rapidly to a peak of 82.2 million pounds in 1971. As Kodiak shrimp catches declined in the late 1970s, much of the vessel effort shifted into the Chignik and South Peninsula areas until those areas demonstrated similar declines in the late 1970s.
As the rate of return for Kodiak processing plants declined due to increased competition for resources and over harvesting, major efforts were made to develop the groundfish fishery. Throughout the 1980s, the wholesale value of the groundfish landings in Kodiak increased from less than $4-million to more than $45-million, making this one of Kodiak's most valuable fisheries.
Fish processing has provided from ten to nearly forty percent of the total industrial payroll in Kodiak since 1980. Those sectors of the Kodiak economy not directly engaged in fishing consist largely of support services for the fishing industry, or of enterprises which support the people who engage in fishing activities or its support.
Today, fish harvesting and seafood processing still dominate the employment opportunity in Kodiak. Together, these two industries provided a combined 33% of total employment in Kodiak for 2000.