Seafood Processing Jobs in Alaska

Alaska's exceptional seafood processing industry provides jobs for more than 30,000 people each year. This does not include fishing. If you ask most companies what they look for in seafood processors, they'll probably say, "Please give me someone who:

--is available to work the full season;
--is physically able to stand long hours, lift heavy weights (on some jobs), and work long hours;
--can get along well with other people in remote and sometimes wet and cold conditions;
--is not afraid of hard work and isn't a chronic complainer; and
--will follow directions and abide bysafety rules."

You may have heard stories about the abundance of seafood processing jobs, high pay, big season earnings, and great Alaska adventures. However, many workers borrow money to get to Alaska, work off and on during the season, and may need to borrow money to get home.

Still others tell horror stories about working and not being paid, about being stuck in some outlying area without a job, without transportation back to civilization, and without any place to eat or to stay. All this, because they worked for an unscrupulous company, or because they didn't pay attention to the up-front information provided by a law-abiding employer.

Excercise caution when offered Alaska job information for a fee. Any information obtained through books, pamphlets, publications or other persons should be verified with a local Alaska State Employment Service office. If you decide to come to Alaska to work in the seafood processing industry, we want you to have a good experience. This brochure provides a true picture of the various aspects of seafood processing to help you make informed decisions.

Seafood jobs are plentiful, but ... when fishers don't fish, processors don't process. As a seafood worker, you're paid only when you work.

There have been more seafood jobs than seafood workers in Alaska for the past several years. However, fishing and seafood processing work depends on the seafood available and length of the season. Alaska's weather and the possibilities of strikes are also major factors in the seafood industry. Since these factors can affect your chance of a profitable year as a processing worker, the first thing to consider is, can you risk the possibility of not working the full season?

--clean fish; scrape, cut, gut, behead, wash, clean stomach linings; fillet; slice flesh from bones; prepare for canning, freezing or smoking.
--butcher live crab; prepare shellfish; clean; remove foreign matter; weigh; record weights; sort to size; pack in jars, cans, boxes or containers of crushed ice for fresh pack.
--use a high pressure hose spray; feed cans and lids into lidding machines; operate machines to move live or packed seafood from place to place.
--butcher frozen, fresh or salted fish for marketing or further processing work in freezing room; move racks of packages in and out of freezing room.
--offload fish from tender; use rakes, high pressure water hoses; shovel chipped ice; clean and pack fish eggs.

You may do one job or several - on shore or on a floating processor.

WHAT THE WORK IS LIKE Most seafood processing jobs are smelly, bloody, slimy, cold, wet, and tiring because of manual work and standing for many hours. The aroma of fish generally lingers with workers throughout the season. Most get used to it. Those that can't stand it generally leave -- which is expensive for the worker and the employer. Surprisingly, many people who thought they could not hack it turn out to be excellent workers who enjoy the camaraderie and other benefits of the job. There are some jobs that do not require direct contact with seafood; but they are rarely available to new seafood workers.

WHERE THE JOBS ARE Seafood processing plants are located throughout the coastal regions and along the the major river systems of the state. The largest concentrations occur in Southeast, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, the Aleutian Islands, and Bristol Bay. Within each of these areas, there are urban, semi-remote and remote sites. Some are on land while others are on floating processors, large ships and barges usually anchored at sea.

Plants that are located close to larger communities are easily accessible and attract many job seekers. There may be six to twelve people applying for every job in these plants. In Anchorage, no room and board is provided in any of the seafood plants.

When semi-remote and remote sites experience a shortage of workers, new hires are made through radio communications either with the home office or a reliable recruitment office such as Job Service. Floating processors hire in much the same way or bring their workers with them. Job Service, which is part of the Alaska State Employment Service, can assist you in locating nearby and remote seafood processing jobs. There is no charge for using Job Service. If you're thinking about heading to semi-remote or remote processing sites to look for a job on your own, you can save time, money, and frustration by talking with Job Service personnel first.

WHEN TO APPLYvaries by area, the type of fish or shellfish, and by company. Look at a map of Alaska and choose the area you wish to target. Contact the local Job Service office for recruitment details. Most Alaska companies prefer to hire people already in Alaska. However, some Alaska processing plants fill their jobs through "parent" offices in Washington, Oregon, and California. Many of these workers return to their jobs year after year. You may get leads on Alaska jobs through your state's Employment Service.

THERE IS A SHORTAGEof workers skilled in preparing seafood for Japanese and Norwegian specialty markets. Workers with specific experience in the high paying fields of roe preparation, surimi, and filleting should immediately send a resume to:  SURIMI: Field Tech Unit, P.O. Box 25509, Juneau, Alaska 99802-5509.

TRANSPORTATION  Employers try to hire close to the job site, and many do not pay transportation costs of any kind on initial hire. Each company has its own policies on transportation, and job seekers must pay close attention. Even if the company pays your way to the job site, you may have to pay your way home if you are fired or quit without good cause. Transportation is hard to get during the processing season. You could be stranded for two to three days in a place with no food or lodging facilities. Think carefully about any job offer, but particularly remote ones.

YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION Always, always pay close attention to a prospective employer's description of the job and working conditions - particularly on floating processors or in remote sites. Seafood processing is dangerous work - especially out on the fishing grounds.  You have a right to work in a safe place. Most Alaska seafood companies work hard to process the harvest in a safe working environment. During your interview, ask if the company has a safety and health program. If not, beware.

Ask about, and be sure you understand the employer's rules regarding hours of work, pay, room and board, and transportation to and from the job site. Good companies will not mind your questions because turnover is costly to them. They want you to be sure before accepting the job. If you have doubts, ask to see written policies relating to pay, hours, transportation and safety. A reputable company will have well-defined personnel policies including safety policies, and will provide safety and health traing for all employees.

INTERVIEWING TIP The supervisor who may be interviewing you works very long hours and often under incredible pressures. Ask your questions in a pleasant, considerate, and positive manner. Carefully read any employment agreement before you sign. Just say "no thank you" if you aren't comfortable with the job offer.

IF YOU THINK YOU ARE CHEATED Alaska law is clear. If you are hired by a company that pays your way to the worksite, the employer is required to pay your return fare ... unless you are fired for cause, which includes fighting, alcohol or drug problems, prolonged unexcused absences or if you don't tell the truth on your application for work. If you quit, the employer isn't required to pay your return fare unless you can prove that the employer misrepresented your wages or hours, or that you quit because of unsafe working conditions. How can you prove your case? All employees should write the hours they work each day in a notebook. If problems occur, write them down. You have almost no chance of resolving wage or other problems without good documentation.

The Labor Standards and Safety Division (LS&SD) of the Alaska Department of Labor helps people who have wage or safety problems - except remember this about floating processors, when you work outside the three mile limit, which most floating processors do, NO federal or state government agency can help you if you are cheated by an unscrupulous boss or company. Some workers have worked the full season and gone home owing the company money due to low pay and high room and board charges!

WORK ON A FLOATING PROCESSOR can be a good job for some people. You work, eat, sleep and basically spend the season out on the fishing grounds. Since you rarely get to town, it can be a great way to save money.

Most floating processors abide by Alaska's wage, hour, and safety laws, but some do not. You should call your Better Business Bureau if you have any questions about your prospective employer. Most unscrupulous or unsafe processors are well known by State Wage and Hour or Occupational Safety Officers. For information on past wage claims, you can call them.

Alaska Labor Standards and Safety Division
Wage & Hour (907) 269-4900
Occupational Safety & Health (907) 269-4955

YOUTH underthe age of 18 must have a work permit. This requires the original (not faxed or copied) signature of a parent or legal guardian. Although some young people are very responsible and can legally work in some seafood jobs, minors should not come to Alaska alone.

ALCOHOL AND ILLEGAL DRUGS As mentioned before, Alaska's seafood companies work hard to assure safe worksites. If you use or sell illegal drugs or need alcohol at your worksite, these companies invite you to seek some other kind of occupation - and preferably in some other state!

PAY varies from one plant to another and between locations. Some floating processors pay minimum wage which is $5.65. The average pay, when room and board is provided, is about $6.00 per hour. When it is not provided, you'll make about $6.50. A few plants operate only for a short 5-6 week season and may pay $8.00 or $9.00 an hour, but don't expect it. Be sure of your pay rate.

HOURS of work in seafood processing run to extremes. While work is available, workers are expected to stay on the job until relieved by the supervisor. This can mean working in excess of 16 hours per day, seven days a week. When you hear about people making "big money" in seafood jobs, they are working very long hours and receiving pay for overtime. If workers do not show up on time, or do not work the required hours, they may be dismissed.

HOUSING While looking for work, and maybe after you find a job, you'll need a place to stay. Only about 50% of the seafood processing plants offer their employees a place to stay and provide meals. A few provide meals but no housing.

Most processing plants are located in areas where hotels and motels do not exist or are few in number, often with no rooms available, and are expensive ($60.00 to $100.00+ per night).

CAMPING is allowed in some areas but not all. An approved site costs $2.00 to $5.00 per day. Many do not have showers or laundry facilities. The closest available approved campsite may be as far as nine miles from any processing plant, and transportation can be a serious problem.

DANGERS of camping include bears (if you're camping in wooded areas or by salmon streams) and theft of unattended camping and personal gear. Each year there are fewer sites available because of garbage and other debris left for local residents to clean up after the canneries close. Campers endure mosquitos and rainy weather, but they also enjoy clean air, interesting wildlife, and fantastic scenery!

In the majority of areas having processing plants, you will not find rentals, youth hostels, YMCAs or charitable organizations. Always ask about housing before you accept a job.

By law, no employer can hire you, until you furnish documents that prove your identity and show that you can legally work in the United States. Either a U.S. passport or U.S. citizenship papers, will prove your identity and your authorization to work in the United States.

Your other choice is to bring your driver's license to prove your identity and your social security card or birth certificate to prove your authorization to work in the U.S. If you forget to bring them, you cannot work anywhere.

If you are not a citizen, bring your Alien Registration Receipt Card, a valid I-94, or an Employment Authorization Card as long as it includes your photo. If you do not have the above documentation but have other proof, ask your local immigration office or State Employment Service for assistance before you come to Alaska.

--durable raingear (duct tape for repair), pull on rain boots, bibstyle waterproof pants, baseball hat or warm hat with ear covers for cold weather, 3 sets of warm work clothes, layered clothing in soft luggage or seabag,
--camping gear, tent, tarp, stove, utensils, sleeping bag. Traveling light is important but remember that your tent is your home.
--items such as required medication (a two month's supply), towels/washcloths, toilet articles, non-electric alarm clock, a small notebook to keep track of your hours, addresses (to write home).
--don't forget your identification and right-to-work in the U.S documents, and
--always bring a return ticket and enough money to live on for a month. It often takes that long to find work. Don't bring jewelry and other expensive items.

Fast access to seafood workers is critical for Alaska's seafood employers. There are excellent opportunities for people who can work hard, follow directions, and abide by the rules. If you're interested in working in Alaska, and you need specific information, call the Alaska Employment Service (area code 907) in:

Kodiak 486-3105      Petersburg 772-3791
Anchorage 269-4800      Sitka 747-3347
Ketchikan  225-2990      Homer 235-7791
Kenai 283-4304      Dillingham  842-5579
Seward 224-5276      Valdez 835-4910

Outside of seafood workers and health care professionals, Alaska has adequate workers to fill most of our employment needs.

Originally published by the Alaska Employment Service.