2004 TAA Workshop Questionnaire Results
Alaska Resident Salmon Fishermen Technical Assistance Program
Over several months in 2004, the Marine Advisory Program distributed questionnaires to thousands of salmon fishermen who attended 257 TAA technical workshops across the state. More than 2,300 fishermen completed the questionnaire, meant primarily to help MAP assess the quality of its workshops and to guide the program as it develops new ways to assist Alaska salmon harvesters and the state's coastal communities. These questionnaire results also offer a glimpse into the priorities, skills, and attitudes of a selection of commercial salmon harvesters and crewmembers currently participating in the fisheries.
Respondents said they were looking for ways to remain
competitive. Fifty-five percent said direct seafood marketing
was the number-one topic they wanted to learn more about. This was followed
by making vessel improvements (43 percent), seafood quality training
(40 percent), and regional salmon marketing (39 percent).
Across the state, commercial fishing plays an important part in fishermen's annual income. On average, respondents look to fishing for 69 percent of their annual income. Reliance on commercial harvesting was highest in Kodiak, Southeast, and Prince William Sound, where fishing accounts for about 80 percent of their income. Dependence on commercial fishing was lowest along the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers at 38 percent and 31 percent respectively. The low numbers are likely because low salmon returns and weak herring markets there in recent years have meant little commercial fishing for these fishermen.
Alaska's salmon fishermen take other jobs to make ends meet. Statewide, about 42 percent of respondents said they work other jobs when not fishing. That figure rises to 54 percent among Kenai fishermen, and drops to 34 percent for fishermen from Kodiak, the Aleutians, and the Kuskokwim Delta.
When not fishing for salmon, nearly a quarter of respondents
could be found fishing for halibut, followed by herring (17
percent), crab (11 percent), cod (10 percent), and sablefish (8 percent).
In line with general population trends, Alaska commercial
salmon fishermen are aging, and fewer new fishermen are waiting in the
wings to fill their ranks. Fully 67 percent of the respondents
were between 30 and 60 years of age. Just 14 percent were between the
ages of 20 to 30, and only 8 percent in this sample were under age 20.
With age comes experience. Across the state, respondents have been plying their trade for an average of 26 years. Those who reside in Anchorage were the most experienced, with an average of 34 years under their belt, while fishermen along the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers had the least, with an average of about 21 years in commercial fishing.
Nearly half of all respondents employed family members in their fishing business. The number was highest along the Yukon, where 66 percent of fishermen hired family members. The number was lowest (40 percent) in Kodiak and the Aleutians.
Computer usage among Alaska commercial salmon fishermen
for their businesses was relatively high with 42 percent of
respondents using a computer for such things as navigation and business
management. Use of computers was highest among fishermen in Southeast
(57 percent), Kenai Peninsula (55 percent), Kodiak/Aleutian Islands (53
percent), Prince William Sound (48 percent), and Anchorage (45 percent).
Fishermen in Bristol Bay (15 percent) and along the Yukon River (5 percent)
and Kuskokwim River (4 percent) used computers the least.
The survey also asked fishermen how they obtain information important to operating their business. Overall, about 49 percent said they use the Internet. But in parts of Alaska such as Kodiak, Anchorage, Southeast Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula, Internet usage approached 60 percent. However, respondents in northwest Alaska, Bristol Bay, and western Alaska used the Internet least. In these areas, respondents rely on radio, television, newspapers and direct mailings for news and information.
In October 2003, Alaska salmon harvesters became eligible to apply for benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. Administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency, this program provides cash benefits, training benefits, and technical assistance to producers of eligible commodities negatively impacted by foreign import competition.
In addition to being an active producer of the eligible commodity (defined as holding an Alaskan commercial salmon fishing permit or being a licensed deckhand), applicants were also required to attend a one-hour technical assistance workshop which covered resources and methods to potentially increase the profitability of their fishing businesses.
Faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Marine Advisory Program/Alaska Sea Grant provided 257 technical assistance workshops to more than 3,600 applicants in 83 communities throughout Alaska between January and May of 2004. In addition, 81 audio workshops were held for groups of applicants in very isolated locations, or who were otherwise unable to attend. In total, 4,341 fishermen, of whom more than 600 were not TAA applicants, attended these workshops.
An optional questionnaire was handed out to all workshop participants. The questionnaire was designed to provide feedback in three areas: the quality of the workshops, what kinds of information fishermen wanted from the Marine Advisory Program, and how best to receive it. Some general demographics about salmon permit holders and deckhands were also collected.
A total of 2,343 questionnaires were returned, representing 54% of the 4,341 workshop participants. The largest percentage (31%) was from workshops held in Southeast, followed by Bristol Bay (20%).
Although the number of respondents was quite large, none of the data should be considered a reflection of the entire salmon harvesting sector. Summary data are representative of fishermen applying for a specific assistance program, and therefore exclusive of other salmon harvesters. Nonetheless, respondents are currently participating in the fisheries and represent a broad geographic distribution. Despite the sampling constraints, we felt these data provide a qualified glimpse into current attitudes, skills, and needs of the salmon harvesting sector.
Questionnaires were only identified by workshop location, and we cannot be certain respondents who completed the questionnaire in a given region actually fished in that region. Responses from Anchorage were particularly difficult in this regard, since very little fishing takes place directly from Anchorage. In general, respondents in more remote coastal communities were more likely to fish in that same region.