Young Fisherman's Initiative
Gaining access to the fisheries off Alaska is increasingly difficult for young Alaska rural residents.
Thirty years ago, a young person who wanted to fish commercially needed a boat, some fishing gear, and a sense of adventure to get started in the business. Today, young fishermen face staggering entry level costs, high operating costs, and a level of risk that is equivalent to buying a starter hotel, instead of a starter house as a first step in home-ownership. Studies show that the average age of Alaska’s commercial fishermen is now 50, up by nearly 10 years since 1980. Fishery access permits and quota are being lost from rural Alaska communities.
With ALFA's partnership, ASFT is committed to helping the next generation of fishermen and ensuring residents of Alaska’s coastal communities have access to our fisheries. Through a number of programs, we are helping the next generation of commercial fishermen launch and support viable commercial fishing businesses.
NATIONAL ADVOCACY: YOUNG FISHERMEN'S DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
Currently, there is not a single federal program in place dedicated to training, educating, and assisting the next generation of commercial fishermen. ASFT and ALFA has joined forces with the Fishing Communities Coalition, a nationwide fisheries advocacy group to advocate for a national program to support young fishermen. Modeled after similar agricultural programs, the Young Fisherman’s Development Program would help connect and expand on existing regional efforts to support beginning commercial fishermen.
The program will provide funding and support for state, tribal, local, or regionally based networks or partnerships to:
- Create training and educational opportunities in sustainable and accountable fishing practices and marine stewardship, business practices, and technical initiatives that address the needs of beginning fishermen.
- Create mentorship/apprenticeship opportunities to connect retiring fishermen and vessel owners with new and beginning fishermen.
- Foster a conservation ethic that prioritizes sustainable fishing practices and marine stewardship.
- Offer financial support and guidance for new fishery entrants.
A national program that provides increased opportunities for the next generation of commercial fishermen could be a groundbreaking step in protecting the stability of coastal fishing communities and America’s seafood supply chain. The bill will soon be introduced and companion bills are to be introduced in the Senate.
We also provide young people opportunities to learn about and participate in the decision-making process. Each year, ASFT and ALFA brings young people to local, state, and national fora so that they can testify about issues that are relevant to the commercial fishing fleet and coastal communities. We also encourage members to join the Young Fishermen’s Network, which has local chapters throughout Alaska.
FISHERY CONSERVATION NETWORK MENTORSHIP & LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Our Fishery Conservation Network (FCN) engages fishermen in collaborative research to address conservation challenges and improve the viability of small boat fishing. Fishermen and scientists share data and information to accomplish a variety of projects; for instance, through our bathymetric mapping project, FCN members map the seafloor, share maps, and work together to more efficiently catch target species while controlling bycatch rates and avoiding sensitive habitat.
Through the FCN, established fishermen have the opportunity to mentor and work with young fishermen and pass on knowledge, tools, sustainable fishing practices, and resource stewardship ethics.
DECKHAND APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM
Over the past three years, ALFA Member Eric Jordan of the F/V I Gotta has brought 40 young people fishing as part of the budding Deckhand Apprenticeship Program. On the water, Eric teaches his deckhands the intricacies of commercial fishing while demonstrating sustainable fishing practices and encouraging a strong conservation ethic.
Formalized as part of the Young Fishermen Initiative in 2015, the program aims to: 1) provide young people with an interest in pursuing a career in commercial fishing an opportunity to gain experience; and, 2) give young people the opportunity to gain an understanding of commercial fishing, the lifestyle it provides, and its importance to supporting coastal communities in a safe and well-guided entry level experience.
ASFT and ALFA is working to develop materials, a curriculum, and protocol for other experienced skippers who are interested in hiring apprentices for their own boats. The program will prepare skippers to select, prepare and safely introduce apprentices to fishing, and will provide resources to young people to ensure that they are fully prepared for their first experience in commercial fishing.
Deckhands might fish for a day, a week, a season, or a lifetime after participating in this program. ALFA considers all apprenticeships a success: even those whose fishing careers end after one trip have gained a new understanding and appreciation for commercial fishing, small boats, and healthy fishing practices.
HOW ALASKA SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES TRUST FITS IN
Founded in 2009, ASFT has been committed to funding all projects under Young Fisherman's Initiative. Our Local Fish Fund (LFF) has facilitated transfer of over half a million dollars of quota shares and permits to Alaskan residents, with the most recent transfer completed in the first week of June 2017. We are currently finalizing terms with a regional fiscal agent that will guide program expansion as we take LFF to scale. We have $1.2 million in capital pledged by fishermen and $3 million in program related investment capital pending through NatureVest. ASFT has been awarded $180,000 in committed grant funds for the project.
LFF’s progress in scaling up to meet community need has been facilitated through strong regional partnerships and local support. LFF’s first transaction included a partnership with Sealaska’s community development arm Haa Aani; the others involved local fishermen and local investment. LFF has also forged strong partnerships with The Nature Conservancy, NatureVest and, most recently, the Juneau Economic Development Commission. LFF's innovative approach lowers entry level costs and shields the young fishermen’s financial risk while still providing a clear path to ownership of fishery access.
ASFT is currently working closely with our partners to fully capitalize LFF and take this innovative program to scale.