5 Business Tips for Young and New Fishermen

Following the success of a similar event held last fall, the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) hosted a “Spring Fishermen’s Expo” in early March to provide educational workshops and technical assistance to local fishermen.

During the Expo, fishermen had the opportunity to attend bathymetric mapping workshops at both beginner and advanced levels, receive technical support on their vessels, and attend a “financing your fishing business” session targeted towards young and beginning fishermen.  The two day event wrapped up presentations from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and NOAA on sablefish stocks.


During the “Financing Your Fishing Business” workshop, Nicchia Leamer, a local lender from Wells Fargo, and Susea Albea, an accountant from Spirit Bear Bookkeeping, gave presentation on qualifying for loans, bookkeeping for a fishing business, and good financial practices for fishermen.


Here are five major takeaways from the financial workshop:

1) Save your receipts.

The most important step to good bookkeeping for a business is to save all paper receipts. Why is this better than relying on your online credit card statements when tax time comes? Being able to provide information about your itemized purchases is very important in accurately reporting your taxes, and protects you in the event of an audit. Itemized receipts allow you to prove that the $500 you spent at the hardware store was actually for fishing gear, not on paint for your home.  And, as Albea put it, “It’s the difference between driving the bus and being towed behind the bus.” Good bookkeeping can also improve your relationship with lenders.

2) You will save money on your taxes if you have professional help, and it will protect you if you are audited.

Our tax system is incredibly complex, with many new regulations and changes being made each year. Very few people, other than tax professionals, have the time or energy to follow these changes. A professional will know exactly which ways you can best save money while doing taxes for your business. Simply put: if you hate bookkeeping, pay someone to help you and go out fishing instead!

3) Know where you stand.

Having a good understanding of your financial situation and the larger financial climate is important for anyone who is considering borrowing money. Know your credit, understand your earnings, be reasonable about collateral, and save your money!

4) Know the difference between good and bad debt.

Good debt pays off. It is the purchase of an investment or asset that will grow, defers other expenses, provides job opportunities, or is well below market value for some reason. Bad debt doesn’t. It is a purchase that doesn’t pay off, mis-financed debt, or high interest rate debt. Knowing when to borrow and why is very important for running a sustainable business.

5) Know what lenders are looking for--and remember, relationships count!

Lenders are looking at the five “C’s” of credit: character, capacity, collateral, capital, and conditions. This means that range of things, including your credit history, current financial situation, and other holdings are important- it is important to develop them all and have a realistic understanding of where you stand before you go in to meet your lender. And remember, having a good relationship with a lender is important both now and later on when you decide to borrow again.

Alaska: Crossing the Line to Electronic Monitoring Implementation

Alaska: Crossing the Line to Electronic Monitoring Implementation

Fishery managers and fishermen recognize that good catch accounting is essential to sustainable fisheries.  Collecting data on fish delivered to the dock presents one set of challenges; collecting data on fish captured at sea but then released or discarded for regulatory or market reasons presents an even bigger challenge.

Strengthening Small-Scale Fisheries

In early February, Duke University and the Oak Foundation hosted an international workshop focused on supporting small-scale fisheries. I participated in a panel addressing the successes and challenges of small-scale fisheries. Workshop attendees included academics, representatives from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), conservation and rural development foundations, and others involved in supporting or managing small-scale fisheries.

What is a Small-Scale Fishery?

The diversity of operations defies concrete definition, but small-scale fisheries are generally anchored in coastal communities where fishing has a strong cultural history and supports both a livelihood and a way of life. The UNFAO estimate that small-scale fisheries account for more than 90% of the world’s commercial fishermen, processors, and others employed in the supply chain, equivalent to over 108 million people. Roughly half are employed on the oceans, making small-scale fisheries far and away the oceans’ largest employer.

Between 2010 and 2013, the UN FAO facilitated a global process that involved more than 4,000 government representatives, small-scale fishermen, fish workers, researchers, development agencies and other relevant stakeholders from more than 120 countries in 6 regional and more than 20 organization-led national meetings. Guided by these participatory meetings, in 2015 the UNFAO formulated the Voluntary Guidelines for Supporting Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. To quote the forward to the guidelines: “These guidelines are the first internationally agreed instrument dedicated entirely to the immensely important – but until now often neglected – small-scale fisheries sector.” The challenge now is to encourage countries around the world to implement these guidelines in support of small scale fisheries.

Although the UN FAO guidelines are focused on small-scale fisheries in developing countries, Alaska’s community-based fisheries certainly fit the small-scale fisheries definition. Alaska’s coastal fisheries are firmly rooted in local communities, traditions, and values. Most coastal fishermen are self-employed and usually provide fish for their own households as well as to other households in their communities. Small-scale fisheries serve “as an economic and social engine, providing food and nutrition security, employment and other multiplier effects to local economies while underpinning the livelihoods of riparian communities.”

The workshop provided me with an opportunity to underscore the importance of small-scale fisheries in Alaska, and to share the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association’s contribution to resource management, marine conservation, and local economies. The workshop also allowed me to highlight the challenges that Alaska small-scale fishermen face from industrial fishing through bycatch and habitat impacts. As the workshop reinforced, small-scale fishermen provide a voice for sustainable fisheries and significantly contribute to maintaining local culture, rural economies, human health, and food security in remote areas. Alaska cannot afford to lose its small-scale, community-based fisheries.

Sharing My Thoughts on Small-Scale Fishermen

Anastasia Quintana is a PhD student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment who attended the small-scale fishermen workshop. She interviewed me during the workshop for her blog, THINK, RE-THINK, RE-SOLVE, which focuses on recent world events and scientific findings through a critical social science lens. “Small-scale fisherfolk might be the most plugged-in actors in aquatic systems,” writes Quintana.

Here is an excerpt from her recent blog post:

Quitana: Why should we pay more attention to small-scale fisheries?

Behnken: Small-scale fishermen are tremendously strong voices for sustainable fisheries. They’re people who care about having healthy oceans and productive fisheries to pass on to the next generation. In rural areas, fisheries are often the only source of economic employment for people. There are fishing communities all over the world. The ones I know best are in Alaska, where most coastal communities are remote and off the road system. There is not much else that people can do to support themselves besides fishing. Nearly all Alaska’s coastal communities are off the road system—isolated by hundreds of miles of wilderness and in some cases on islands as well. When people from rural communities lose access, they lose a way of life, they lose self-esteem. We see all sorts of other social issues that flow out of that. So, there’s a social justice piece, there are social equity considerations, and there’s a really strong conservation piece to supporting small-scale fisheries.

You can read the entire interview, “Who is Linda Behnken?” on the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment website.

Wrapping up and welcoming winter

Dear Alaskans Own Subscribers and Friends,

We hope you're getting ready to welcome the coming of winter, and enjoying your final Alaskans Own shares for the 2015 season. As the daylight leaves us, eating fish becomes more important than ever. Except for sunlight itself, there is no better source of vitamin D than wild salmon.

Our troll fishermen are now targeting winter kings, the ocean “feeders” that will come to rivers to spawn in future years.  Longliners are wrapping up their halibut and black cod season and looking forward to sharing stories and thinking about next season.  At Alaskans Own, we are doing some of the same—reflecting on the past year and planning for next season. We hope you'll help us by filling out our end of season survey that will soon be coming your way.  We need you, our subscribers, to let us know what you liked and what you would like changed.

And we would like to tell you about some changes at Alaskans Own.  This fall Alaskans Own transitioned from being a program of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT—where Caroline worked), to being a program of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association (ALFA—where I work).

The decision is far from a wild leap: ASFT and ALFA have worked closely together since 2009 on a shared vision for a healthier Alaska, for both fish and people.  Together they have launched programs that strengthen fisheries and fishing communities, including the Fishery Conservation Network and the Local Fish Fund.

The bottom line: your subscriptions will continue to support the same conservation and stewardship efforts, but with the change the management of Alaskans Own will be more directly connected with the fishermen themselves.  ALFA is, above all, a fishermen's association, working directly to improve management in the same fisheries that provide your fish each month. Our goal is to engage more fishermen and more land-based residents in the future of our fisheries - all while connecting you with great wild seafood.

We hope you will be as excited as we are to be working more closely with ALFA and the FCN. Still, transitions are never without growing pains, so I also want to thank you for bearing with any hiccups along the way.  We deeply appreciate your support and look forward to reading your recommendations.  Please watch for the AO survey and, when you can, take time to share your thoughts.

For now, stay warm and keep in touch,


"A rose by any other name"

Happy Fish Day, AO subscribers and ALFA supporters!

Some of you may be wondering what Shakespeare is doing on a fish blog. Well, though little known to most scholars, “ye olde” Bill was actually invoking the sacred sablefish instead of the handsome Romeo.

Sablefish, black cod, butterfish—take your pick. Whatever the honorific, this fish packs a tasty punch. That’s because sables (well, we have to choose one) are prized for their high oil content and rich taste.

Actually, though colloquially referred to as “black cod” sables are actually part of the Anoplopomatide family. Alaskan sablefish typically spawn during March and April along the deep waters of the continental slope. It takes roughly five to six years for sablefish to mature, although they can live up to 90 years in the wild. They’re also a highly mobile fish, with recorded migrations of over 2,000 miles.


Sable fisheries are managed using individual fishing quote (IFQs). Each year, the fishery managers set an amount of fish that can be caught while allowing the stocks to remain stable. The quota is then broken down into shares and allotted to individual fishermen to harvest. The fishery typically runs from March 1st through November 15th, meaning you can get fresh sablefish for most of the year!

This month’s sablefish was caught by longline off the lovely F/V Tamarack. What is long lining, you ask? Longline is a fishing technique where hundreds of baited hooks branch from a single line. Benthic longlines make use of a groundline set along the sea floor with short branch lines (called “gangions”) attached every few yards ending in a baited hook. Our longline fishery does not damage benthos or benthic habitats and can select fish species by choice of hook size and design. Longlines are left to soak for a few hours, with each fish being individually landed.

Though well known by the rest of the world, sablefish is only just enjoying some well-deserved time on the American dinner plate. So tuck in, enjoy, and spread the word!