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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Alaska Fisheries and Global Trade

Products from Alaska’s fisheries are consumed around the world. Global demand for these products is an important source of income to U.S. fishermen, processors, and traders. The U.S. Census Bureau monitors exports and imports of a wide set of commodities, and it publishes information on the current U.S. trade deficit, which according to Census Bureau data, set a new record last year. Furthermore, the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis released new information on January 10, 2007, that estimates the U.S. trade deficit, at least for goods through November 2006, is even larger than last year.

The new information ( estimates the U.S. trade deficit for goods in November 2006 was $65.5 billion, with a cumulative deficit for the year through that month of $758.4 billion. Corresponding values for 2005 were $71.4 billion, and $703.1 billion, respectively. The trade deficit for goods with China was, by far, the largest of all countries in both years. In 2006, the cumulative trade deficit for goods with China through November was $213.5 billion, up from $185.3 billion in 2005. The cumulative deficit with Japan was the next largest, with values of $75.8 billion and $81.0 billion, in 2005 and 2006 respectively, followed by Canada with values in these years of $70.0 billion and $67.5 billion.

Seafood products from Alaska are thus a benefit to the nation by helping to reduce the U.S. trade deficit, and in fact, Japan, China, and Canada are the largest international consumers of Alaska seafood. In addition, the processing that takes place in Alaska, Washington, other states, and at sea, creates what economists call “value added” because labor, from fishermen and other people, is combined with capital, such as fishing vessels and processing plants, to earn a monetary return from investments. From the point of view of public finance, the economic base of capital and labor is an important source of tax revenue. ESSR economists use a sophisticated set of statistical tools and computer models to analyze trends relevant to fisheries management. A new frontier for these methods is to examine how global demand for seafood affects Alaska’s fisheries.

The U.S. Merchandise Trade Statistics provide detailed information on the amount, in both kilograms and dollars, of important commodity groups that are directly related to Alaska fisheries, such as Alaska pollock, the world’s largest fishery in volume, and Bering Sea king crab, which at one time was incredibly lucrative and is still a major global fishery. These statistics are available in an electronic format to AFSC economists through the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s Trade Policy Information System ( This electronic format enables rapid retrieval, and modern computer software is used to visually display the trade statistics.

For spatial analysis, trade statistics identify the U.S. customs district where seafood products were exported. For example, Anchorage is the only customs district in Alaska. After Anchorage, Seattle is the most important export location for Alaska seafood products, but in addition to Washington state, these products leave the United States from many coastal and border states, and even from Puerto Rico. However, the trade statistics only identify countries, or trade partners, that import seafood products, and normally, no additional spatial information is available.

In most cases, the location of each country’s largest port is used as a proxy for the true entry point. Where possible, the location of a port or district was obtained from the electronic World Port Index, published by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), and available through the U.S. Geological Survey ( In other cases, using the largest port may be a problem, because of identification, or other issues. For example, many small Pacific Islands import Alaska king crab. In such cases, another port, or in landlocked countries, the capital or largest city is used.

Trade statistics are associated with latitude and longitude of each customs district in the United States and the location of each trade partner. From this geographical information, a spatial network of trade flows was estimated for seafood products, from the Bering Sea or Gulf of Alaska, to the U.S customs district for export, and finally to the foreign country that imports, either for consumption or for export. The latter, however, is not presented, because this information is not available in the U.S. Merchandise Trade Statistics. However, this database is particularly useful because its time series are available back to 1983 for Alaska pollock and king crab.

Spatial information about trade patterns over time for Alaska seafood products was compiled in a geographical information system (GIS) by ESSR staff. The visual display of information in a dynamic GIS is accomplished using animated maps ( These maps show in each year where Alaska seafood products left the United States and the location of countries that received the products.

In addition to Alaska pollock and king crab, dynamic GIS maps were developed for four other important Alaska fisheries that are represented in the U.S. Merchandise Trade Statistics: Atka mackerel, Pacific ocean perch (POP), sablefish, and yellowfin sole. The time series available for these four are shorter than those for Alaska pollock or king crab. While Atka mackerel and yellowfin sole are mainly caught off Alaska, profitable and high-value sablefish fisheries operate from the Gulf of Alaska, along the West Coast, all the way to Southern California. Fisheries for POP, an important rockfish species, are also widely distributed, from the Bering Sea to Southern California. The animated maps show POP and sablefish exports for all U.S. fisheries.

Each of the animated maps displays trade flows in thousands of kilograms (metric tons). On each map, black circles identify the locations of U.S. customs districts that exported seafood products. The size of a circle in a given year corresponds to the total weight of products that was exported in that year from the customs district to all global trade partners. Red circles identify the major port or city in countries that imported the product type, and again, the size of each red circle corresponds to the total weight of seafood products that was imported by a particular country from all U.S. locations in a given year. Finally, the total amount of each product that was moved in a given year between a particular customs district and its trade partner is represented by a colored line, with darker and wider lines indicating greater trade flows.

Information presented in these maps is reproduced from data in the U.S. Merchandise Trade Statistics. Questions about the quality of these data are referred to the document at, or to the Foreign Trade Statistics Division of the U.S. Census Bureau (

By Michael Dalton

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