Washington still hooked on fishing

A new report finds the sprawling, 150-year-old maritime industry continues to be a major mainstay of the state's economy.
Crosscut archive image.

Seattle deck hand.

A new report finds the sprawling, 150-year-old maritime industry continues to be a major mainstay of the state's economy.

Water, water everywhere and lots of jobs to boot.

That’s the gist of a new report on the economic impact of the maritime industry in Washington State. The report spotlights the important role the maritime industry plays in the state’s economy, estimating that the sector generates $30 billion in total revenues and about 148,000 jobs.

Crosscut archive image.

Those numbers make maritime bigger than Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon or other large employers in the region. Not bad for an industry that traces its roots back more than 150 years to the earliest days of the state.

Earlier this year, Crosscut’s series on the commercial fishing industry stressed its importance to the regional economy. The new report was commissioned by the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County with support from the Puget Sound Regional Council. It estimates that fishing and seafood processing account for nearly 60 percent of the maritime industry’s revenues. Logistics and shipping was the second major maritime sector, accounting for another 25 percent of total revenues.

One of the report’s surprising revelations is the sheer breadth of the state’s maritime industry, which encompasses:

  • Ship building, maintenance and repair — The construction, maintenance and repair of commercial and recreational vessels. (Commercial ships include fishing and transport boats, tugs and barges. Recreational vessels include yachts and sailboats.) Maintenance and repair can involve work on vessel interiors and exteriors, as well as on their mechanical and electrical systems.
  • Maritime logistics and shipping — The transport of goods by water, including container and bulk shipping, trans-ocean, shoreline and river freighting, and “break bulk” shipping of non-containerized goods. Tug and barge services, storage and warehousingand port management also fall into this subsector.
  • Passenger water transport — The movement of people over water for business or recreation. The Washington State Ferry system is a big actor in this category, as are cruise ships and tour boats and other charter activity.
  • Fishing and seafood processing — Anything having to do with catching and processing fish (either finfish or shellfish), for fun (recreational) or profit (commercial). Aquaculture falls into this category too, and so does any fishing and seafood processing activity that happens in Alaska on Washington State-registered vessels.
  • Maritime support services — This includes a wide array of technical and professional services, from civil engineering firms that provide marine terminal and port design and construction to naval architecture, financial and legal services, and federally-funded maritime support activities involving NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, there are supply and wholesaling (in propulsion, electrical, hydraulic and safety systems), boat dealers, marinas, builders of vessel interiors and suppliers of parts and fuel.
  • Military Operations — This category includes water-related military operations such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, which is the largest federal employer in the state.

The new report also shows that the maritime industry’s reach extends well beyond coastal Western Washington, claiming 139 establishments and 2,200 workers in 18 Eastern Washington counties.

The “multiplier” for the industry — the number of non-industry jobs created for every industry job — is relatively low at 1.6. A 2010 study of Microsoft’s economic impact, for example, found a multiplier of 5.61 jobs for each Microsoft job. But the maritime industry is growing. Revenues are up 6.4 percent per year on average, with the largest growth rate — a robust 10.2 percent — occuring in the maritime logistics and shipping subsector.

Good jobs are a key part of the maritime industry story. According to the report, maritime jobs are generally middle-class jobs, no college degree required and a median income of about $71,000. The industry, as a whole, paid nearly $4 billion in wages in 2012. Workers most in demand during the next eight years are expected to be meat and fish cutters and trimmers; sailors and marine oilers; fishers and related fishing workers; laborers and freight, stock and material movers; captains, mates and pilots, and civil engineers.

With such a diverse demand, many in the industry regard recruiting and maintaining talent as one of the biggest challenges facing many of the maritime sectors. Leaders also recognize another big challenge: the need to raise the profile of their business among the general public, and educate the residents of Puget Sound about the vitality of the maritime industry and the economic opportunities it presents.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy

Stephen H. Dunphy writes on business and economic issues for Crosscut. He was a business editor and columnist for a number of years at The Seattle Times.