Vibrant Human Quality of Life
Economic Vitality
Employment in natural resource industries
Vital Sign Indicator
Each Unit (number)

No targets are currently set for this indicator.

Rabia Ahmed
Contributing Partners
Last Updated
10/26/2022 9:58:37 AM
Employment (number of jobs) in three natural resource industries: agriculture, timber, and recreation and tourism by county. Expand the layer list to turn on and off Economic Vitality layers for each sector. Click on a county for more information. Note that recreation and tourism values are reported only for zip codes that are adjacent to coastal areas. Jefferson and Clallam Counties data include jobs associated with both the Puget Sound and the Pacific Coast.

The employment in natural resource industries indicator tells us how many jobs are supported by natural resource industries in Puget Sound, including aquaculture, timber, fishing, agriculture, and recreation and tourism. This information can be used to track changes in the sustainability of employment opportunities in natural resource industries.

Vital Sign Indicator Chart

Annual employment (number of jobs; left axis) and total wages (dollars in thousands $2019; right axis) by industry for natural resources-based industries across the Puget Sound region.

This indicator tells us how many jobs are supported by natural resource industries in Puget Sound as well as the wages associated with those jobs. Puget Sound residents have a strong connection to resource-based industries such as fishing, agriculture, aquaculture, timber, and recreation and tourism. While we can measure the economic output for these industries, it is also important to monitor how such output relates to the maintenance of job opportunities and wage levels. Natural resource industries often provide employment to many generations of a family and define a way of life. In addition, employment in these sectors brings individuals in direct contact with the environment, which can foster an ethic of stewardship toward natural resources.

Key Vital Sign Indicator Results
  • Since 2005, there has been a positive trend in the number of jobs and the wage levels supported by natural resource industries in Puget Sound. However, the progress is mixed since patterns differ across the industries.
  • Combined employment in natural resource-driven industries in Puget Sound has trended upward from an estimated 75,596 jobs in 2005 to an estimated 102,371 jobs in 2019, largely impacted by growth in Puget Sound shoreline recreation and tourism. Total wages across these industries have also increased from approximately $1.7 billion in 2005 to $2.7 billion in 2019 ($2019).
  • Aquaculture, agriculture, and recreation and tourism sectors all report general employment and total wages growth from 2005 to 2019. Employment in agriculture and aquaculture each have increased by an average of 1 to 4% per year since 2005, while recreation and tourism saw average annual employment growth of 3% per year between 2005 and 2019.
  • On average, 4,306 employed or self-employed people reported fishing employment between 2005 and 2019. Employment in fishing has generally declined over this period. Number of jobs reported was highest in 2005 (4,735) and lowest in 2019 (3,673). Total wages for the fishing industry show a similar downward trend.
  • The timber extraction industry (forestry/logging and support activities) lost employment from 2005 to 2011, but held steady at around 1,300 to 1,400 jobs from 2011 to 2019. While timber employment stayed about the same, total wages for the timber industry have alternately decreased and increased during that timeframe.
Monitoring Program

Data are collected and made publicly available through government agencies. Each data source and agency has their own protocols and methodologies for data collection and reporting, and these methodologies may be changed or updated over time. We will report changes as we learn of them, as such changes may bias trends reported here.

Data Source

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Economics: National Ocean WatchBureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Quarterly Census of Employment and WagesBureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Regional Data: Local Area Personal Income and EmploymentHeadwaters Economics: Economic Profile System (HW EPS), Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WADNR), Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA)

There are no targets set for the economic vitality indicators. Economic indicators are being tracked to monitor for potential negative and positive impacts of environmental changes from ecosystem recovery efforts to natural resource industries, while considering variables such as policy and management regulatory changes, technological change, changing consumer preferences and demands, and emerging markets.

This indicator can be used to track changes in the sustainability of employment opportunities and wages in natural resource industries. The data will be compiled from existing sources to provide information on the number of jobs and total wages in individual and combined natural resources-based industries in Puget Sound, by county, by year.

Timber employment data for jobs classified as Forestry and Logging (NAICS 113) and Support Activities for Forestry (NAICS 1153) for the Puget Sound region total are provided by Headwaters Economics Economic Profiling System, derived from the Department of Commerce County Business Patterns data. Timber employment and wages at the county level for those same timber categories are compiled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Agricultural employment data for the Puget Sound region total and by county is provided by Headwaters Economics EPA, derived from farm employment data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Agricultural wage data is compiled from the BLS for jobs classified as crop production (NAICS 111).

The geographical scope of the Puget Sound Partnership includes all counties adjoining the Puget Sound basin. To restrict timber and agricultural employment and wage estimates accordingly, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WADNR) forest practice and Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) agricultural land use maps were intersected with county and Puget Sound Partnership boundaries. The percentage of timber or agricultural land use that fell within the Puget Sound Area was used to draw a proportion of total county employment and wages. Timber and agriculture employment and wages represents actual harvest and farming activities, and does not include mills, manufacturing or other farm support services.

Fishing and Aquaculture employment and wages are provided by NOAA’s Economics: National Ocean Watch program (ENOW), derived from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), and reported by region. Fishing is defined as all finfish and shellfish fishing, while Aquaculture employment includes finfish farming, fish hatcheries, and shellfish farming. ENOW’s Washington region includes all counties in the Puget Sound Management Area, as well as the coastal counties of Greys Harbor, Pacific and Wahkiakum. To accurately reflect management area employment, QCEW employment for the outlying counties was collected and subtracted from the larger Washington region. U.S. Census Bureau non-employer statistics for the fishing industry were also added to the time series to reflect a large amount of self-employed people in the fishing industry. Fishing and Aquaculture employment and wages include harvest activities but does not include value added seafood processing or markets, such as retail and wholesale distribution. Due to the mobility of the fishing fleet, place of work data may only partially capture Puget Sound employment. Because of these two limitations the numbers report in the indicator assessment are probably under estimates of true employment in these two industries. For example, Northern Economics (2013) reports employment in shellfish aquaculture to have been 2,710 jobs in 2010 compared to 761 jobs reported for this indicator. 

Recreation and tourism employment and wages are reported by ENOW and includes boat dealers, eating and drinking places, hotels and lodging, marinas, recreational parks and campsites, scenic water tours, sporting goods, amusement and recreation services, and zoos and aquaria. Employment and wages in this sector is reported only for zip codes that are adjacent to the coastal areas.

Recreation and tourism employment in Jefferson and Clallam counties accounted for 3,474 jobs on average annually from 2005-2019. However, those counties are not included in the indicator results because the indicator is focused on Puget Sound economic activity and we could not accurately remove Pacific coastal tourism and recreation employment from the total. Additionally, employment in Thurston County is not estimated by ENOW because the portion of coastal tourism and recreation that can be attributed to the Puget Sound versus the professional and political activity at the state’s capital is unclear. For these reasons, recreation and tourism estimates above should be considered conservative.

It is important to note that there are some gaps in county-level data, particularly for the aquaculture and fishing industries, where confidentiality prevents data from being reported at the county scale. BLS notes these gaps as “Not disclosable – data do not meet BLS of State Agency disclosure standards.” Farm employment data reported by the BEA includes both agriculture and aquaculture employment. Regarding industry employment data using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the BEA notes that estimates of employment for 2001-2006 are based on the 2002 NAICS; estimates for 2007-2010 are based on the 2007 NAICS; estimates for 2011-2016 are based on the 2012 NAICS; estimates for 2017 forward are based on the 2017 NAICS.

The Puget Sound region includes the following counties: Clallam County, Island County, Jefferson County, King County, Kitsap County, Lewis County, Mason County, Pierce County, San Juan County, Skagit County, Snohomish County, Thurston County, and Whatcom County. Lewis County was not included in the total employment and wage data for all industries since only a small portion of Lewis county is in the Puget Sound watershed. As such, Lewis County is only included in the timber industry data.

Critical Definitions
Interpretation of Results

Combined employment in natural resource-driven industries in Puget Sound has trended upward from an estimated 75,596 jobs in 2005 to an estimated 102,371 jobs in 2019, largely impacted by growth in Puget Sound shoreline recreation and tourism. Total wages across these industries have also increased from approximately $1.7 billion ($2019) in 2005 to $2.7 billion ($2019) in 2019.

Removing recreation and tourism employment from combined employment reveals mixed estimates, with peaks in 2008, 2012, 2017, and 2019 and lows in 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2014. Employment in industries excluding recreation increased by about 283 people from 2018 to 2019. Wages show similar highs and lows throughout the time series. These trends from 2005 to 2019 are likely driven by a combination of pre- and post-recession effects paired with recent below average Puget Sound fishery yields, and declines in timber in recent years.

In recent years, employment and wages in shellfish aquaculture shows a notable upturn for 2014-2019. While timber employment remained steady between 2012 and 2019, recent timber wages have fluctuated. Fishing employment and wages have declined since 2012. Agricultural employment increased from 2015 to 2017 after a decline since 2012, but took a slight dip in 2018 and increased again in 2019. Agriculture wages have continued to increase for the past several years with a small decrease in 2018. Tourism and recreation show significant increases in employment and wages since 2009.

Employment (number of jobs) and wages (in thousand 2019 dollars) for natural resource industries in Puget Sound, 2005-2019.


Increased aquaculture employment and wages overall could be attributed to a transition to more labor-intensive single oyster production, expansion of Manila clam production, and an increase in labor-intensive geoduck production. Increased aquaculture employment from 2014 to 2015 likely corresponds to lifting a ban on geoduck exports to China. Despite increases in wages and income in this sector, there is continued competition with shellfish imports. While these data only capture growers in the industry, it is important to consider the growing retail and restaurant employment associated with aquaculture production.

Ex vessel value from the Pacific Fisheries Information Network (PacFIN) confirms slack years in commercial fisheries. In addition, droughts and low runs of salmon may have led to loss of jobs in this sector between 2012 and 2019. While wages increased slightly in 2017, 2018 and 2019 suggest a continued decline of both employment and wages in this sector.  

While employment in timber has continued to be flat, wages showed a noted increase in 2016 which could be attributed to mechanization in the industry. Following that, these have continued to decline.

Despite a slight decline from 2012 to 2015, overall employment and wages in agriculture have continued a modest rise from 2005 to 2019. Increases in some counties may be partly driven by growth in small farms that specialize in farm-to-table and organic products.

Increases in employment and wages in tourism and recreation may be attributable to continued consumer demand for farm to table destination dining, cruise ship and tribal casino visitation, accessible shore-based recreation (such as kayaking and stand up paddle boarding), and development of tourism infrastructure such as hotels and VRBO accommodations. Some aspects of this increased demand suggest that there is a consumer willingness to pay for the nonmarket attributes of the coastal ecosystem (such as recreation, aesthetics, and culture). The 2015 economic analysis of Washington’s outdoor recreation prepared for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office shows relatively high recreation expenditures in areas around the Puget Sound, which would help support employment in the industry.

Northern Economics, Inc. The Economic Impact of Shellfish Aquaculture in Washington, Oregon and California. Prepared for Pacific Shellfish Institute. April 2013.

Briceno, T., Schundler, G. Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State. Earth Economics, Tacoma, WA. Prepared for Washington Recreation and Conservation Office Olympia, WA. January 2015.


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Reporting Guidance
Reporting Instructions

Not applicable to Vital Sign indicators

Natural Resources Industries
Employment, Wages, Natural Resource Employment, Natural Resource Wages