Herring jobs attract lots of workers

Processing companies finding a lot of interest in employment

Steve Lee, assistant plant manager at Pederson Point for North Pacific Seafoods. Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

Business was brisk at the Alaska Department of Labor’s Anchorage Midtown Job Center as recruiters from North Pacific Seafoods interviewed sought to hire workers for the upcoming herring season.

There just seem to be more people looking for these jobs this year, said Steve Lee, assistant plant manager at Pederson Point in Bristol Bay.

By the time North Pacific Seafoods completed its recruitment effort on April 18, Lee estimated they would have interviewed about 140 applicants for the 150 to 160 jobs at the Pederson Point plant, just north of Naknek on Bristol Bay. Half of those jobs will be filled by folks who worked the previous season and said “yes” to letters from the company inviting them to return for the 2018 season.

While the herring in the Togiak fishery were holding offshore, waiting out wind and rain hitting western Alaska, biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham were hopeful that things would improve over the coming week, and Lee was sure his plant would be ready.

The herring fishery, which generally runs about two weeks, is attractive to processor workers, whom North Pacific Seafoods offers $11.25 an hour, plus $16.87 an hour overtime for anything over eight hours a day. Travel to and from Anchorage is also reimbursed, as long as the worker stays to complete his or her contract, as are costs of room and board.

Employees, who work 16-hour-a-day shifts when the fish are running, get meal breaks, and are housing four to six people to a room, bunk style.

They are asked to provide their own sleeping bags and towels, as well as personal amenities, and any prescription medications. The plant offers mail services for employees and there are first aid facilities, phones and a small store at the plant, but no hospital facilities, according to the company’s website. The plant is 3.5 miles from Naknek, which has a post office, bank, a few stores and restaurants and Internet access.

For those who don’t get hired on for the herring season, there are possible jobs for the upcoming Bristol Bay salmon fishery, where North Pacific Seafoods will need processing plant workers for four to five weeks.

Of those approximate 190 processing jobs, Lee said the company expects there will be 40 percent rehire from the 2017 season.

A lot of those being hired April 17-18 just wanted to do herring though, because of the higher pay scale.

North Pacific recruitment for the Pederson Point plant for the salmon season begins in May. Last year the hourly rate was $10.25, but Lee said the rate for the 2018 season had not yet been decided.

Applicants for herring fishery processor jobs with North Pacific Seafoods watch an instructional video on what the job entails at the Anchorage job center for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Photo by Margaret Bauman/The Cordova Times

North Pacific likes hiring Alaska residents, but the days when college students were attracted to such jobs have dwindled, perhaps because of the broader job options and internships now available, he said.

These days the average person hired may be from 30 to 50 years of age, he said.

North Pacific Seafoods is one of a number of seafood processing facilities who work with state labor officials to recruit workers.

It’s a year-round process, according to Nelson San Juan, an employment services technician with the Alaska Department of Labor who oversees hiring for the seafood industry. The state agency currently is offering orientation classes for the seafood industry Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., with a work call beginning at 9:30 a.m.

At-Sea Processors Association is on tap for a job fair at the Anchorage Midtown Job Center April 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Recruiters will be there representing American Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Coastal Village Region Fund and Arctic Storm. These jobs are for two to three months on board catcher processors, with pay determined by percentage of catch or case rate, depending on the company.

To apply for a job in the seafood industry through the Anchorage Job Center applicants much attend a seafood orientation, register in ALEXsys at jobs.alaska.gov, and provide U.S. Form I-9 identification and bring it to the orientation.

During the five day a week work call, applicants are advised of immediate openings, upcoming recruitments, where to sign up for interviews and how to fill out applications.