The character and economy of Kodiak are built around the commercial fishing industry. Crab pots are stacked on working piers; ropes and nets are often seen stretched out for maintenance. Visitors enjoy talking with fishermen as they work or spend time taking photos as the commercial fleet delivers fish and heads out for more. Kodiak’s fishing industry is one of the oldest in the country thanks to the introduction of salt by the Russian settlers.
Once Alaska became an American possession, news of the fertile fishing grounds in Kodiak traveled fast. The first salmon cannery was built in Karluk in 1882 to take advantage of the huge sockeye runs, and by 1888 the Karluk spit was crowded with salmon canneries. Canneries began popping up throughout the archipelago with commercial facilities in Afognak, Uyak, Ugak, Uganik, Moser and Olga bays. Intense competition soon led to the expansion of commercial fishing into the other species of salmon.
The industry remained devoted to salmon until 1950 when 60,000 pounds of King Crab were landed. New plants were built and older ones expanded to accommodate the crab fisheries. By 1959 the catch had increased to 21 million pounds of King crab and by 1968, Kodiak had become the largest fishing port in the United States.
In the late 1960s and early 1960s, harvest levels of King crab began to fall. Several processors moved to Unalaska and Dutch Harbor to be closer to the crab supply. By the early 19080s, the crab harvest had dropped to 8.7 million pounds, the lowest in 24 years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the crab fishery in Kodiak.
In the meantime, the shrimp fishery grew rapidly and then slowed again when shore plants and the fishing fleet were badly damaged by the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. It recovered by 1971, but again steadily declined throughout the rest of the decade. As the rate of return for Kodiak processing plants fell, efforts were made to develop groundfish (primarily Pollock and cod) and halibut fisheries.
Today Kodiak is consistently ranked among the top three commercial fishing ports in the United States and with fisheries encompassing Pollock, cod, rockfish, flat fish, halibut, scallops and more, it is the most diverse fishing port in the state of Alaska.
While the quantity of the catch keeps Kodiak ranked high in commercial fisheries, the quality of the product keeps it in high demand across the globe. Clean, nutrient rich waters produce some of the best tasting seafood in the world. Cooks and consumers consider Kodiak salmon to be among the best available. The commitment to sustainable fisheries in Kodiak and Alaska promise to keep the resource vibrant and healthy for decades to come.