Monday, February 02, 2009

Overrating the Fishing Industry

There's something I have noticed about Oregon, but I think it's probably true about a lot of places. It was back in New England.

The fishing industry here gets a lot of coverage. In particular, it gets a lot of scientific analysis from the state universities. It's a noble industry, old, part of the state's heritage, no less than timber. For example, everyone seems to fret about the salmon catch every year, or its prospects, or about whether its fisherman need state or federal help.

But the coverage is, it seems to me, all out of proportion to the industry's impact. Commercial fishing in Oregon nets about $300M/yr and employs roughly 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, the state's GDP is about $140B (2006). It's population is 3.7M.

The fishing industry is, in Oregon, tiny. By comparison, about 2% of Oregon's GDP comes from the solar industry -- roughly $3B/yr, or 10 times that of the fishing industry.

But, when times are hard or the fish run scarce, you see lots of stories about laid off fisherman, yet very few about laid off solar engineers. They are, for the most part, men who have spent their entire lives in the field -- which is, admittedly, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world -- and have little training or education for anything else. And people here, just as they did in New England, like their heritage and like to think about the old days. So the fisherman tend to get a lot of attention and a lot of help.

I'm just not sure it's really the best way to support the economy.

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