Ouzinkie currently is experiencing a high lack of employment resulting in inadequate household incomes
combined with a low level of adults achieving higher education. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce
Development has determined through a special rural labor market survey that 47% of the adults of Ouzinkie
were unemployed as of March 2004. The latest federally reported unemployment rates indicate an overall
rate in the United States of 5.7% and in Alaska of 7.5%. A City of Ouzinkie Municipal survey done in
November 2004 adjusted the community’s Low Moderate Income (LMI) level from 41.3% in the 2000 Census to 92%
based on the change in household income indicating that 92% of Ouzinkie residents are considered Low Moderate
In addition, Ouzinkie is on the current listing of communities that meet the Distressed Community
Criteria as determined by the Federal Denali Commission. The Denali Commission was created to specifically
address what was viewed as a crisis in rural, Native Alaska.
To understand Ouzinkie's lack of employment requires an understanding of Alaska fisheries, and the complexity
of International, Federal and State regulation that has evolved over the past fourty years. This increased
regulation has served to significantly reduce fisheries access for the local Native communities, favoring
off island and out of-state investors with large amounts of financial capital. The abundance of Alaska's waters
has supported thriving local Native village economies for millennia. This began to change in the 1970's when salmon
limited entry permit systems were instituted.
Ouzinkie fishermen have participated in commercial salmon fisheries since the very beginning. In fact,
a special salmon reserve was created for Ouzinkie and Afognak fishermen of the Kodiak Archipelago in the
1920s. Pictures of the Ouzinkie waterfront taken in the 1950s and prior to the earthquake and tidal wave
in 1964 show Ouzinkie as a vibrant fishing community with processing plants and a substantial resident fleet.
Processors had located in Ouzinkie in the 1920's because of the abundance of local seafood. In addition to
five species of salmon in the area, the king crab fishery started in Marmot Bay behind Ouzinkie and local
fishermen have always harvested codfish and halibut. Fishing and fishing related employment
were the only jobs available.
Ouzinkie enjoyed the presence of salmon processors and the capital investment they brought to the
community until the 1964 earthquake and tidal wave destroyed the entire Ouzinkie waterfront and much
of the Ouzinkie fishing fleet. Without local processing plants (canneries), the only resident fishing
jobs were on the boats. Many Ouzinkie residents traveled to other fishing areas with canneries to find
employment. Fishermen that lost their boats crewed on other "skipper's" vessels in the years following
the earthquake/tidal wave. Also, with poor salmon returns in the late 1960s and early 1970s many fishermen
in Ouzinkie, as well as around Alaska, faced potential bankruptcy.
The Ouzinkie waterfront in 1962. Note the number of extensive seafood processing
canneries for salmon and king crab, and the fishing boats in the foreground.
Limited entry by State of Alaska issued permit, when it was adopted in 1973, granted fishing permits
based on points awarded for past participation in the fishery. However, the points awarded only reached
back five fishing seasons. Consequently, at the outset, many life-long Ouzinkie fishermen didn't qualify for
permits because of the limited time period chosen and the local circumstances in the years preceding limited entry.
Many of the permits that were issued to Ouzinkie fishermen were soon transferred out of the village.
Fishing was poor at the time and local residents needed the money to pay basic living expenses. Also,
as fishing improved, individuals living in larger urban areas tended to accumulate more fishing capital than
rural native villagers in Ouzinkie. This imbalance accelerated the out-migration of Ouzinkie based limited entry
permits. By the early 1980s Ouzinkie's fishing fleet was less than half of what it had been 15 years earlier.
Also, young people, for the first time, were discouraged from planning to be fishermen. In 1973 there were 21
salmon permits issued to 18 distinct individuals in Ouzinkie. By 2004 there were less than 10 salmon fishing
permits still in the village. Ouzinkie residents decry all the fishing opportunities that they have lost over the
years and have started working within the regulatory system to expand their fishing options. Currently, less than
half of the jobs and incomes in Ouzinkie are fisheries related.
In brief, the traditional village of Ouzinkie lost access to the fisheries resource upon which it bases its
existence. And this tend continues with the implementation of the Individual Fishing Quota Program for halibut
and sablefish implemented in 1995 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Ouzinkie is not alone in
its experience of the adverse impacts of limited entry and quota fisheries management programs. Almost all of
the Gulf of Alaska coastal communities are on the Denali Commission Distressed Communities list and have
experienced similar economic results as Ouzinkie.
Ouzinkie’s current employment base is now predominantly provided for through government entities including
the City of Ouzinkie, Ouzinkie Tribal Council, the Kodiak Island Borough School District, and the local U.S.
Post Office. However, most local government jobs are low paying with few if any benefits such as health
insurance and retirement programs, and many positions are only part-time or seasonal. Most community
residents survive through a mix of part-time and seasonal work combined with subsistence hunting, fishing
and gathering. With currently no ability to provide for full-time employment opportunities for its young
adults, Ouzinkie is losing a generation to employment opportunities in other parts of Alaska.
As well as facing extremely high unemployment rates, the cost of living in Ouzinkie is very high. Alaska
Economic Trends reported in June 2004 that it cost $105.54 a week to feed a family of 4 with elementary
school children living in Anchorage, Alaska’s major city. Compare that to the $144.13 a week it takes
to feed the same family in Kodiak, the regional hub that serves Ouzinkie. There are no statistics reported
for Ouzinkie, but all consumable goods must be transported again from Kodiak significantly increasing the
ultimate cost to the Ouzinkie consumer. The combination of a high cost of living with extremely high
unemployment rates provides significant economic challenges for young families desiring to live and work in Ouzinkie.
Another need of the community is the current level of education attainment in Ouzinkie. Currently,
education attainment for adults in Ouzinkie is distributed as follows:
- 23% no diplomas or GED.
- 66% high school diploma or GED.
- 11% Bachelor degree or above.
Secondary education is minimally available through long-distance learning provided by Kodiak College,
the University of Alaska, Anchorage and others. However, Ouzinkie residents have indicated that they
prefer training in their own community. They see on-site training as a potential to increase community
capacity as well as provide opportunities for young adults to participate.
There are other impacts that add to the decline in Ouzinkie’s primary economy of fisheries, lack of higher
adult education and its high cost of living. Transportation costs continue to increase as fuel prices continue
to climb. The State of Alaska has all but eliminated municipal assistance, revenue programs and capital
improvement funds that used to be distributed to small communities. These funds had allowed City governments
to provide infrastructure improvements for basic services such as water, sewer and electricity. As a result,
the City has no discretionary funds available for long-term planning, capital improvements, equipment purchases
or the support of staff beyond what is directly funded through city utilities. This is reflected in the
current status of Ouzinkie’s transportation and electrical generation infrastructure discussed