Commercial Fishing Fuel Survey Results

Executive Summary

During the 2008 fishing season, fuel prices for fishermen spiked to levels unseen before, as they did for Americans everywhere. Since fish harvesting and processing is Alaska's largest private employer and a significant economic force in coastal Alaska, the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program (MAP) partnered with the United Fishermen of Alaska to ask fishermen how fuel prices impacted their business and to share ideas on how to adapt.

From mid-September through October 2008, the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program and the United Fishermen of Alaska conducted an unscientific, Web-based survey of Alaska's commercial fishermen. We asked how increased fuel prices had impacted their businesses, what steps they had taken in response, and what further help or information they could use to adapt. One hundred twenty-six people responded, representing a broad cross-section of gear types and fishing locations in the state.

Click on chart images below to view larger versions.

Total responses by gear type


Changes in Fishing Behavior

The most common changes in fishing behavior due to increased fuel prices were less exploration or prospecting, followed by fishing closer to home or not returning home as often. Eighty-eight percent of fishermen surveyed said that they had changed their fishing behavior in some way in response to the high fuel prices.

Change in behavior due to fuel prices

Changes in Vessel Operations

Respondents also adapted to rising fuel prices by paying attention to several fuel-saving strategies aboard their vessels. Over 70% of respondents indicated that they "paid lots of attention" to maintaining their engine and fuel systems, as well as throttling back more when running. Over 60% paid attention to planning their routes and timing to minimize distances and tidal affect. Installing fuel flow meters to monitor fuel consumption and switching to newer, more efficient engines drew the most interest when asked which devices fishermen had considered adding to their operations. Sixty-four respondents were considering adding or were already using a fuel flow meter, and 74 were thinking about or had already repowered.

Fuel saving techniques

Business Profit Impacts

Fuel prices impact profits differently by gear type. The largest number of respondents (43.1%) reported they spent between 10 and 20 percent of their gross fishing income on fuel. Seventy percent (n=86) fell in the 10 to 30 percent range, but almost 63% (n=78) of all respondents said these percentages had more than doubled over 5 years ago.

Permit holders were not the only ones impacted; a majority (61%) of respondents reported their crew also felt the pinch of high fuel prices. Most said crew shares were reduced because the cost of fuel is taken off the top before shares are calculated. Some permit holders indicated that high fuel prices had forced them to make this type of arrangement with crew for the first time this year. Others respondents indicated that they fished short-handed, didn't hire crew at all, quit fishing earlier, or laid crew off sooner.

Fuel price impact on crew

Twenty-eight percent of fishermen said that their processors provided assistance with their fuel costs. Examples included processors selling fuel at a bulk price to their fleets or providing fuel bonuses.

Fuel and Fisheries Management

Finally, respondents were asked if fisheries management actions have an impact on fuel consumption. While 62.7% (n=64) of respondents said that management decisions did affect fuel consumption rates in their fisheries, only 37% (n=40) felt that "fuel costs are a valid concern and should be integrated into the fishery management process," with 52% (n=56) indicating that "management should be strictly biological."

Should managers take fuel costs into account

About the survey

Results of this survey are unscientific. Respondents were self-selected members of the Alaska commercial fishing industry and were referred to the survey Web site by radio or newspaper stories, fishing-related listserves, or by direct referral from MAP faculty or others. Since the survey was conducted using a Web-based survey-hosting site, respondents were limited to those with Internet access. Neither names nor computer IP addresses were collected with the responses, and no attempt was made to verify that respondents had identified themselves accurately.

While we were pleased with the response rate and the information provided, there are over 10,000 permit holders in the Alaska state fisheries alone. Furthermore, the number of respondents per gear type was very small in some cases. Despite these limitations, we feel these results provide an interesting snapshot of the impacts of and fishermen's responses to increased fuel prices.

If you have any questions about the survey results, please contact Sunny Rice, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Petersburg, 907-772-3381 or

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