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Five Fast Facts about Commercial Fishing

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May 10, 2019

Every old-timer in Seattle probably has a fishing story to tell from the good old days. But the days of fishermen bringing their catch home and putting their money into the local economy aren’t just a quaint tale from the past — they’re a thriving part of our present and future. For more than 100 years commercial fishing has been a cornerstone of the regional economy and the Port of Seattle has played — and continues to play —a critical role in supporting the industry at facilities like Fishermen’s Terminal, the Maritime Industrial Center, and Terminal 91.

Here are a few fast facts about fishing that aren’t just fish tales.

1. Seattle is sometimes called the “southern office” of Alaska

With the vitality of the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, the economies of Washington and Alaska are interdependent.

Of the 300 commercial fishing vessels that used Port of Seattle facilities in 2017, 226 of these vessels actively fished in Alaskan waters to catch Pollock, Alaskan king crab, groundfish, salmon, and other seafood. Port of Seattle moorage customers harvested 1.3 metric tons of seafood in the North Pacific Fisheries, with equivalent gross earnings of between $259.1 million and $455 million, adjusted for inflation.

Salmon longliner in Alaska
Photo credit: "Cinnabar with Misty Chichagof Island 2970" by Gillfoto is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

2. Fishing vessels based at Port of Seattle moorage facilities supply 13% of the total U.S. commercial fishing harvest by tonnage

  • Port tenants harvested 1.3 metric tons in North Pacific Fisheries in 2017
  • Gross earnings in Alaska’s fisheries totaled $1 billion in 2017. The 226 boats moored at Port facilities account for $455 million, or 44% of that total 
  • Seafood is one of the top export commodities shipped out of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, with a total value in 2016 of $637.9 million. The top 10 seafood exports that come out of Seattle and Tacoma Harbors include: sockeye, pink, king, silver and chum salmon; halibut; Pacific cod, lingcod; rockfish, Pollock, and sablefish (black cod); crab, shrimp, clams, oysters and mussels

Graphic showing fishing tonnage by Port of Seattle customers

3. Historic Fishermen’s Terminal also has a 100-year-old marine railway

Fishermen’s Terminal became the first operational Port of Seattle property in 1914. The Port recognized the importance of building a facility that would provide a spot for commercial fishermen to moor, repair, and provision their boats in the off season. Until then, there had not been a home port for fishermen who were forced to search for moorage wherever they could find it. 

In 1919, a marine way was installed at Fishermen’s Terminal.  A marine way is like a train track that runs from below the waterline onto land. A boat can be floated into a cradle on the rail tracks and pulled onshore with a winch for hull repairs and maintenance.

Fast forward to 2019 and commercial fishing is a thriving, technology-driven, modern business that literally feeds the regional economy. And as a historic building and still the epicenter of the region’s fishing industry, it’s time for several facility updates that will improve long-term financial stability by developing new light industrial space and creating new jobs.

Historic Fishermen's Terminal

4. Commercial fishing is big business

Fishing vessels that moored at Port of Seattle facilities operating in the Alaskan fisheries generated gross earnings of more $455 million in 2017. Maritime support services like vessel maintenance and repair, processing, and cold storage located on Port properties also generate additional revenues. Factoring in all segments of commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle, these activities generated more than $671.2 million in business output in 2017.

Traps on the back of a commercial fishing vessel

5. The average age of a maritime worker in Washington State is 54 years old

That means that trained and skilled workforce in commercial fishing and related industries are needed now as the “silver tsunami” of workers begins to retire. 

In 2017, commercial fishing activities on Port of Seattle properties generated 7,200 jobs with a payroll of $313.4 million. 

One of the Port of Seattle’s top priorities is training maritime workers of the future. In April 2019, the Port established the Workforce Development Special Committee, chaired by Commissioners Stephanie Bowman and Ryan Calkins. The committee will review the Port’s Century Agenda strategy around workforce development, and update the Port’s workforce development policy and the five-year strategic plan. The committee will also provide recommendations for the development of a feasibility study around a maritime high school and related business plan.

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