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Accommodating Cultural Diversity in the Alaska Seafood Processing Industry: the Transformation to a More "Welcoming Workplace"

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A captain of a tender boat for the CDQ plant in his village is mentored by a village elder who has taught him the traditional ways of navigating the changing conditions of the Yukon River’s delta. Photo by Clarito Aradanas.

The Alaska seafood processing industry brings together a unique assemblage of people from all over the world to live and work together in some very remote locations near the highly productive fishing grounds of the North Pacific. Cultural diversity has been a characteristic of the seafood processing workforce for more than a century, with migrant workers of diverse national origins supplying labor to the industry since the early days of industrial seafood production in Alaska. Processing companies have a large influence on the social conditions in which the workers operate because of the companies’ role providing food and housing for the workforce in remote locations where alternative options for food and housing are few if any.

In response to changes towards integration and multiculturalism within the North Pacific seafood processing industry, AFSC anthropolgist Dr. Jennifer Sepez with the assistance of contractor Clarito Aradanas initiated a study in 2008 to study the contemporary social conditions in the Bering Sea – Aleutian Islands (BSAI) processing workforce using ethnographic field methods in situ in BSAI processing plants. The objective of the study has been to understand the changes that have occurred in the management of cultural diversity in the workforce. These changes appear to have positively affected the morale and productivity of the workforce and the retention of experienced workers, representing a significant new social impact in what the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) calls the “human environment.”

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