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Analysis: Blessing of the Fleet a testament to a way of life

Industry's impact on Juneau felt deeper than just the economics

Posted: May 7, 2011 - 11:26pm
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Pastor Sue Bahleda of the Resurrection Lutheran Church blesses the fleet during the annual Blessing Of The Fleet And Dedication Of Names at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial on Saturday.   Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Pastor Sue Bahleda of the Resurrection Lutheran Church blesses the fleet during the annual Blessing Of The Fleet And Dedication Of Names at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial on Saturday.

They were like we are now. All nationalities, all lovers of the water. Sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandparents. Casters of sport lines, roller men and net haulers, standers of wheel watches and catchers of lines that were thrown to the docks on return trips home.

But on Saturday morning those gathered on shore beneath sunny skies were reminded once again that these souls they came to honor were not coming home. The importance of who they were to families and friends overshadows and minimizes, and rightly so, what the fishing fleet brings to the Capital City, Southeast, and all Alaska.

As Valley Church Pastor Pat Brayton gave prayer and Captain Chris Knight moved his vessel Sweetwater close enough so all could see a “crewmember” placing the wreath in the Gastineau water, it was only fitting that tram and floatplane filled with cruise ship bounty lifted above reminders of the city’s mining days and the docks below.

Girl Scout Cadet Troop 4026 led the Pledge of Allegiance from the Alaska Commercial Fisherman’s’ Memorial, dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives while part of the Alaska commercial fishing industry, and Gastineau Strummers and the City of Juneau Pipe Band played tunes such as Amazing Grace.

The words “bounty of the sea” were righteously spoken, for seafood is one of Juneau’s “big three” private sector industries along with mining and tourism.

In Alaska it is the largest private industry employer. More than 53,000 people earned income from harvesting and processing in 2009 and nearly as many engaged in transporting, marketing, servicing, supplying, researching, and regulating Alaska’s seafood industry which paid more than $100 million in taxes, fees, and self-assessments.

Fourteen of the top 80 seafood ports in the U.S. are Alaskan; the nation’s #1 is Dutch Harbor. Alaskans catch more fish and shellfish than the other 49 states combined — 1.9 million metric tons, roughly 4.2 billion pounds, worth $1 billion at ex-vessel and more than $2 billion wholesale. Our seafood makes one-half of all exports from Alaska.

Southeast Alaska seafood harvesting and processing make up about 25 percent of the entire private sector workforce. The region has 4,600 active permit holders and crewmembers, earning $143 million from all fisheries in 2009. SE has 61 seafood processors employing 4,900 workers and produced $375 million in product in 2009, exceeding the value of gold produced annually at both Kensington and Greens Creek mines.

Juneau was the 38th most important seafood port in the U.S. in 2009 with 17 million pounds of seafood landings worth an ex-vessel value over $20 million. First wholesale value of processed seafood leaving Juneau for world markets is $29 million.

Juneau has 256 active permit holders, 441 crewmembers, and their earnings were over $18 million in 2009. An additional 129 residents in the processing sector earn money directly from that harvesting and processing in the cities seven shore-based processing companies. An additional 58 direct marketers, catcher/sellers, and catcher/processors made the 2009 Juneau seafood processing employment 430 individuals strong, earning $4 million in wages.

Seafood impacts on the government level in Juneau include 196 State of Alaska positions and 265 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration personnel. Juneau is also the supply and service center for resident and nonresident harvesters and processors in nearby fisheries including Taku, Lynn Canal, Icy Strait and fleets from cities as large as Bellingham, Wash. to troll cities such as Baranof and Elfin Cove.

“As every one of us who spends time on the sea knows, the money can come and go, depending on all kinds of things that are often out of our control as fishermen,” sea captain and McDowell Group spokesman Eric McDowell said. “But we also know the most important thing and that is the life we are privileged to lead as Alaska commercial fishermen. We know we are on God’s great seas in the middle of this Earth’s most beautiful place, Southeast Alaska, catching God’s amazing and bountiful creatures that keep showing up in our nets and on our lines, year after year, supplying the world with the healthiest food imaginable.”

Resurrection Lutheran Church Pastor Sue Bahleda spread wide her arms to bless the assorted vessels that motored off the Fishermen’s Memorial representing the fleet, and the names on the wall were read:

Scott Elliot Tyree, John B. Jackson, Karinna M. Caples, Severin H. Swanson, Wendell F. Scheider, Emil Samuelsen, Olaf Torkelson, Harold O. Kravik, William “Bill” Spaulding, Charles B. Metz, Peter Babich, Tim Blake, Charlie Peterson Kim, Bert R. Logan, Thomas J. Burns, Richard Stevens, James D. Weber, Milo Vincent Davis, Elwood W. Reddekopp, Oren Addleman, Victor “Huck” Lane, Karl Lane, Olaf Winther, John Winther, Sigurd Winther, John R. Winther, Gudmund Winther, Mark A. McDowell, Kenneth Patrick Millard, Kenneth Fred Millard, Curtis Gary Miller, Elton Engstrom Sr., Richard C. Kendall, Micky & Orville Wagner, Thomas R. Kelly, Jonathan Holgate, Edward Judge Graham, Rob Fisher, Fred Lee Seater, David Vincent, Roger D. Christie, M.E. Pete Isleib, George Bryson, Larry S. Smith, Mickey Bryson, Levi McKinley Sr., Kenneth E. Wingate, Orvald G. Osborne, Russel H. See Sr., Paul Eckland, Bob Bell, Andrew Haffner, Warren B. Haines, Lee Andrich, Charles O. Tubbs, Scott Lewis, Joseph C. Huard, Henry A. “Skip” Museth, Mary E. Carson, Larry N. Carson, Phil Cashen, Robert Christy Gregg, Charles Rick Nelson, S.M. “Sam” Cesar, Darrell Hobson-Gross, John Eric Clauson, Randy Knudson, Albert & Isabell Schramen, William H. Dore Sr., Peter & Betty Larson, Bert Alstead, Karl Alstead, Peter Hildre, Gilbert Girard Bixby, Albin Peter Frederickson Sr., Clancy Henkins, Stewart Jensen, Robert E. Hervin, Archie Brown, James Hastings Gary Pond, John Ron Kainen, Lars Holtan, Brian Rudolph, Jerry Beason, John Lowell, Hjalmar Savikko, Olaf B. Westby, Herbert “Hap” F. Savikko, Robert R. Tenney, Donald P. Tenney, Jeffrey S. Bere, Robert S. Schy, Walt Hofstad, Pat & Tom Gemmell, Orvel “Oddie” Rude, Danny Wright, Brian & Lee Spencer, Olav Lillegraven, George Martin, Dwayne “Dingle” Harvey, Paul M. Harvey, Eric Odegaard, Renee Odegaard, James Odegaard, Arnt & Selma Nilsen, Edwin Johnson, Andrew S. Jackson, Charles Wynn, Chuck Nowlin, Kevin Ernest Brockway, Everett J. Buchanan, B. W. “Bert” Finley, Chuck Dakota Johnson, Jack Koby, Jack V. Koby, Chuck Porter, Dean R. Dewey, Gordon W. Meyer, Alex W. Imlach, Ladd Macaulay, Bob Emerson, Jamie Coby, Clayton Fleek, Ronald John Sr., Larry Trambitas, Jack Trambitas, Erik Kveum, Joe Bennett Sr., Matt Brakel, Stanley Reddekopp, Rich Behmlander, Max L. Holtzinger, Brenda Willis-Bruce, Tex White, Herb Bruce, William E. Smith, J. Gary Dabney, Paul Mangold, Joseph L. Graham, Gary Edwards, Ed Duncan, Bob Storrs, William “Bill” Stalnaker, Mark A. Smith, Scott Thomas Trible, Ricky A. Nebert, Matthew Young, Jim & Myrna Peters, Daniel L. Lowell, Kris Lee Fanning, Harold Oluf Fossum, Leroy Harold Martin, Frederick G. Martin, Andre Beaton, Ernie Garner, Robert Kohlhase, Gary Edwards, John Lepore, Roy Campbell, Stanley D. Swanson, Douglas T. & Doris C. Wahto, Dick Watts, Reuel “Red” Fleming, Dota E. Brown, Rod Selvig, Marc Livingston, Keith Lapiene, Bob Younger, Bruce Gleason, Mark & Christine Brodersen, Bill Razpotnik Marjo II.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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