Southwest Alaska’s economic engine is driven by the region’s abundant marine resources, home to five of the top ten seafood ports in the United States by volume and six of the top ten ports in the United States in terms of value (Figure 6.1).
Regional fishery landings declined in 2012-2014 but then increased to almost 700 million tons in 2015. In 2017, fishery landings reached an all-time high. (Figure 6.2). Similarly, fishery values have been quite variable since 2011, dipping until 2015 but then increasing dramatically by 2017. Total price per pound has increased from roughly $0.28 to $0.34.
Use the filter to explore the value of Southwest Fisheries:
The Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) Program is a federally managed economic development program. Three of the six CDQ groups established by the program are in Southwest Alaska: the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association (APICDA), the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC), and the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association (CBSFA).
These three organizations represent 24 of the 65 communities under the CDQ umbrella (within a fifty nautical mile radius of the Bering Sea coast). In 2013, Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) released the decennial review of the CDQ groups, which includes information from 2006-2010. According to DCCED’s reports, the CDQ groups invested a combined $21.5 million dollars each year in the region over the five-year period. In 2010, the CDQ groups employed 1,114 workers collectively (direct and indirect), with an average of 82% of jobs going to member residents in the region. Nearly all jobs supported by BBEDC and CBSFA went to residents: 95% and 84% respectively, and 39% of jobs supported by APICDA went to member residents.
Figure 6.6: Seafood processing plants employing over 100 workers, Source: Trident, Icicle, and Peter Pan Seafoods
Subsistence, defined as the customary and traditional uses of wild foods and resources, is an important aspect of the culture and economy of Southwest Alaska. Subsistence resources account for a substantial and vital portion of all economic activity and value in many of the communities in the region. Subsistence enhances food security in rural communities where opportunities for year-round employment in the cash economy are limited. Engaging in subsistence practices can supplement earnings from the cash economy, serves as an alternative to public assistance, and mitigates the impact of the extreme seasonality. Along with being a vital part of the economy, engaging in subsistence is a vital part of the culture of many southwest communities and serves as a way for people to share and learn about their culture. Subsistence surveys are conducted sporadically which creates challenges for presenting data. As such, no data on subsistence is presented here.
The Southwest region has rich mineral wealth due to its history of volcanism. However, much has remained inaccessible due to the harsh climate, high energy costs, limited transportation infrastructure, and with one large mine, the Pebble Project, concerns about resource conflicts between a nonrenewable mineral and the renewable salmon resource. Interest in the region’s minerals has increased over the past decade. According to a 2012 report by the Alaska Miner’s Association, over half (52%) of mining expenditures in Alaska were made in the Southwest Alaska ($137 million). Mining has the potential to help diversify the regional economy if the correct balance can be made for responsible development.
Figure 6.7: Mines and Points of Geologic Interest in Southwest Alaska, Source: State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Alaska's Mineral Resources (2012, Updated)
Oil & Gas
The region has offshore oil and gas deposits in the North Aleutian Basin, although a leasing schedule has not been announced to sell development rights as of 2019. Given the geography, potential resource conflicts and the long-term headwinds against OCS development, it is unlikely that this resource will be developed in the near-future.
Figure 6.8: 2016 Assessment of Oil and Gas Resources: Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region, Source: US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Compared with the rest of the state, tourism growth in Southwest Alaska is very modest. Higher costs, complicated travel logistics, and a limited transportation infrastructure impedes visitation and tourism development in the region. However, recent interests and investment in tourism are encouraging. In 2012, the Alaska Partnership for Economic Development (APED) recognized that tourism was a growing industry in Alaska with considerable potential for additional growth.
Using the 2017 Alaska Department of Labor data, APED compiled information on the tourism cluster, including the distribution of tourism jobs around the state. The report concluded that the tourism industry employs approximately 2,177 people in Southwest Alaska, which is about 5 percent of the total tourism sector employment for the state. Figure 6.9 shows the approximate number of jobs per business type that are directly and indirectly related to tourism in the region
The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development’s (DCCED) 2011 Alaska Visitor Statistics Program (AVSP) provides some interesting insights about tourism in Southwest Alaska. It should be noted that the AVSP report includes the Yukon-Kuskokwim region, which is not within the SWAMC region.
Figure 6.10 shows that two-thirds of visitors to the Southwest region were visiting for Vacation or Pleasure. Figure 6.11 shows the amount of visitor spending in the region during the 2016-2017 season.