Alaska Editorial: Fishing, construction industries looking up

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2003

This editorial appeared in The Voice of the Times on July 6:

At least two segments of Alaska's economy are looking strong - construction contracts are holding at a record high level and the market for Bristol Bay red salmon appears promising.

Bradner's Alaska Economic Report predicts that an unprecedented combination of factors could make Bristol Bay fishermen's paychecks significantly larger than they have been in recent years.

This year's harvest is projected to be 17 million fish, far larger than the 10 million caught in 2002. And preseason sockeye prices are up 30 percent from last year.

While prices traditionally dip once the season gets under way, that may not happen this time. The Bradner report quotes unnamed analysts as saying prices in the big Japanese market are now set mainly by imported farmed salmon, the primary competitor to Alaska's wild fish.

Usually the price of farmed salmon works against the price of wild salmon. But analysts are apparently now saying that Alaska's market share has fallen to the point that a larger harvest in Bristol Bay won't really depress prices.

That could mean that the preseason prices will hold up through the harvest. If that happens, 2003 could be a season of real improvement for Alaska fishermen, one they have been longing and working for.

And this year's construction season promises to be a strong one as well. Associated General Contractors of Alaska reports that 2003 contracts will match last year's record total.

Those figures are for construction of highways, airports, buildings and other conventional building contracts. The overall total - including oil industry spending - will be $4.3 billion.

That total actually is down about 8 percent from the $4.7 billion recorded last year. But it includes a previously announced drop of almost $500 million in oil industry spending. Oil investments are down from $1.9 billion last year to $1.4 billion in 2003. Though lower, that is still a significant level of investment.

Construction estimates do not include work on the missile defense launch facility at Fort Greeley, near Fairbanks, which is believed to be a significant number. The Department of Defense refuses to release spending totals on the launch facility. The crystal ball remains cloudy on near-term prospects for a gas pipeline and drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But, if things turn out as predicted on Bristol Bay sockeye fishing and conventional construction projects, those segments will have good reason to cheer this year.

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