Alaska Fishing Jobs
For years and years, Alaska’s seafood industry has been a major source of summer jobs – especially for college students. The salmon fishery starts in mid- to late-May and runs into September, which fits a college student’s schedule pretty well.
But what’s the big draw? Why would anyone in their right mind want to spend a summer handling fish in Alaska?
There are lots of reasons to go after an Alaska fishing job.
The answer’s pretty simple really. People are drawn to the adventure of working in America’s last great frontier and by the excellent earnings potential. With overtime and the possibility for bonus pay, workers in Alaska’s salmon processing plants enjoy the possibility of making far more than their counterparts working fast food or retail back home in the lower-48. Okay, maybe the answer isn’t even that simple! There are other reasons why so many people want to sling fish in Alaska. Here are a few:
- Working in the Alaska seafood industry, whether on a fishing boat or processing plant, you’ll get to meet people from other states.
- After your job wraps up, you may have the opportunity to travel around Alaska. Some of the nation’s most beautiful national parks are located in Alaska, such as Denali National Park — home to Mt. McKinley.
- Many seafood processing facilities are located in remote areas, so employers provide room and board for free or for little charge. This means that you can save much of what you earn.
- College students have the opportunity to return year after year to work for the same company. Most seafood processing plants offer pay increases to returning staff and some will waive the room and board charges as well. Deckhand jobs on fishing boats may receive an increased percentage share of the summer profits in their second season.
There are really two different kinds of Alaska seafood jobs discussed in our Alaska Fishing Jobs section: Harvesting and Processing.
Salmon Fishing Jobs
When we talk about salmon fishing jobs or harvesting jobs we mean the act of catching the fish. Working on a fishing boat means many hours of repetitive tasks, day in and day out – often in cold, wet weather. It doesn’t snow in Alaska during the summer’s but it’s not Arizona warm either!
So how do you know if you’re cut out for this line of work? It’s pretty simple really.
You must be able to withstand 16- and 18-hour work days, cramped living quarters, sometimes difficult co-workers, and the smell of fish. Fortunately, the work isn’t all that dangerous when compared to a winter on a crab boat for example.
There are several different types of salmon harvesting or fishing boats: trollers, gillnetters, and purse seiners. The methods employed by each type of vessel are different, and accordingly so are the responsibilities of the crew. In all cases, however, once the fish are caught they are put into a hold below deck where they are kept fresh until being offloaded to tender boats or onshore processing plants.
Pay on a salmon fishing vessel is almost always based on the catch value. Deckhands and other crew receive what is called a ‘crewshare’ or percentage of the catch. The more experienced hands get a higher crewshare. In a good season, one’s pay can reach $5,000 per month minus expenses for groceries and other boat supplies.
Most salmon fishing vessels are independently owned and operated. They do their own hiring, advertising open positions for cooks>, deckhands, or other crew in Seattle and Alaska newspapers. Many skippers also post jobs with the Alaska Job Service and on Alaska fishing jobs websites. Finally, it’s possible to get a job on a salmon fishing boat through a process called ‘dock stomping.’ Most of Alaska’s salmon fishing fleet makes its offseason home in and around Seattle, Washington. Job seekers can walk the docks in late-spring or early-June in hopes of meeting a skipper in need of crewmembers. Or, if you’re in Alaska during the season, find the marinas in fishing towns and walk the docks or hit the local watering holes.
Learn much more about working on salmon fishing boats in the Alaska section of our website.
Salmon Processing Jobs
It’s easier for an Alaska fishing industry ‘newbie’ to get a job in an onshore processing plant than on a fishing boat. The work in a plant is not glamorous! You’re going to smell like fish, the work is very repetitive, and the hours can average 12-16 hours per day during the peak of a season.
There are a number of different summer seafood processing jobs at an onshore plant. The most common position is that of a fish processor or salmon slimer. Slimers work on the slime line gutting fresh salmon. Other jobs at a processing plant include:
- Dock crew
- Freezer crew
- Mess hall cook
- Line supervisor
- Salmon roe (egg) sorters / packagers
- Administrative staff
Once you have worked a summer on the slime line it becomes easier, in subsequent summers, to get other jobs such as those listed above. With each successive summer you may receive pay increases and the cost of your housing and food may decrease or disappear altogether.
The key to a financially successful summer working in Alaska’s salmon fisheries is…FISH. The more fish that are caught the more money everyone can make. Fish processors earn minimum wage, currently $10.85 per hour, plus overtime of $16.27 (as of Jan. 1, 2023). It’s easy to see how these jobs can be lucrative when you’re working 12-14 hours per day for many days in a row! Now, if you were back home, there would be many temptations to spend your hard-earned summer job money — but not in remote areas of Alaska.
Remember, if you finish out your summer work contract, then the employer may reimburse you for room and board fees paid over the summer.
There are dozens of onshore processing plants in Alaska, with some companies owning several plants in different regions. For summer jobs the best time to apply is in March or April. Many processing plants have websites where you will find online applications, job line numbers, and general information on pay, benefits, contract length, facility location(s), and job requirements.
Learn all about summer jobs in onshore salmon processing plants in our Alaska jobs section.
Alaska Salmon Seasons
Again, the salmon season kicks off in mid- to late-May in Alaska. But the fact is that the season really gets moving in late-June in an area called Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest Sockeye Salmon run. The season in this region ends by July 31 when other regions are just gearing up.
Smart job seekers, who want to work all summer in Alaska, start off working the Bristol Bay fishery from start to finish. When the work dries up they transfer within their employer’s network of processing plants to another region of Alaska, working until that season ends.
As you’ll see in our Alaska Jobs section, all of the salmon fishing jobs are located in one of five regions. For each reason, we provide information about climate, attractions, places to look for lodging and other travel tips.
- Region 1 – Southeast Alaska. Referred to as Southeast by Alaskans, this region includes the capital city of Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell, and Petersburg.
- Region 2 – Prince William Sound and Kenai Peninsula. Region 2 is where you’ll find Anchorage, Homer, Seward, Cordova, Valdez, and Kenai.
- Region 3 – Kodiak. Kodiak Island island is a 100-miles long and located in the western Gulf of Alaska. The town of Kodiak is home to several processing plants, which work year-round — not just in the summer.
- Region 4 – Alaska Peninsula and Aleutians. This region, which includes Dutch Harbor, does not have much of a summer fishery.
- Region 5 – Bristol Bay. It’s the sockeye salmon capital of the world. Includes Dillingham, Naknek, and Egegik.
Learn about each region and then decide which one(s) suit your personal interests. Bristol Bay has the first fishery while Southeast finishes up in September.
If working in the wild frontier of Alaska – in a job with terrific earnings potential – sounds appealing to you, then be sure to read our complete section on Alaska fishing jobs. There are many details there that you won’t want to miss.
Alaska Fishing Industry Employment Resources: