Young Fishermen's Initiative 

Gaining access to the fisheries off Alaska is increasingly difficult for young Alaska rural residents.

The Juneau-based Ord family are featured in an upcoming documentary launched by ALFA about the importance of small-boat, community-based fishermen. The film was recently sponsored by Patagonia. Photo by Annika Ord. 

The Juneau-based Ord family are featured in an upcoming documentary launched by ALFA about the importance of small-boat, community-based fishermen. The film was recently sponsored by Patagonia. Photo by Annika Ord. 

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.

ALFA 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. 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:

Young fishermen advocate for fisheries access in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of AMCC. 

Young fishermen advocate for fisheries access in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of AMCC. 

  • 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.

ALFA also provides young people opportunities to learn about and participate in the decision-making process. Each year, 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. ALFA also encourages members to join the Young Fishermen’s Network, which has local chapters throughout Alaska.

Fishery Conservation Network Mentorship & Leadership Development

ALFA’s 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

Cathryn Klusmeier and Jake Metzger fish on the F/V I Gotta as part of ALFA's apprenticeship program. Photo by Eric Jordan. 

Cathryn Klusmeier and Jake Metzger fish on the F/V I Gotta as part of ALFA's apprenticeship program. Photo by Eric Jordan. 

 Over the past three years, ALFA Member Eric Jordan of the F/V I Gotta has brought 23 young people fishing as part of ALFA’s 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 ALFA’s 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.

ALFA is working to develop materials, a curriculum, and protocol for other experienced skippers who are interested in hiring

Eric Jordan, skipper of the F/V I Gotta, has taken over 20 young people commercial fishing in the last three years. Photo by Alyssa Russell/ALFA. 

Eric Jordan, skipper of the F/V I Gotta, has taken over 20 young people commercial fishing in the last three years. Photo by Alyssa Russell/ALFA. 

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.

What is the experience like? I suppose first and foremost when you go trolling for the entire summer it becomes so much more than just catching fish. You are working a job, certainly, but it’s a job without set hours and the workplace is a constantly changing floating landscape which just happens to be where you are also eating, sleeping, cooking, and waiting for the King salmon to bite. Southeast Alaska is quite possibly the best place to do any of this.

I keep trolling because it’s a kind of work that I really enjoy in a setting that I’m consistently in awe of. Trolling is salty, bloody, physical, and a complete grind, but I really enjoy the oscillation between my summers, which are on the water, and my winters, which are full of more academic and writing-based work. Clearly none of this is at all possible without a really excellent Skipper. When you spend that much time on a small fishing boat in Southeast Alaska, a good working and living relationship is possibly the most important aspect of the job.

I would certainly recommend trolling to those who want to spend their summer living, not just working, on a boat, day in and day out, pursuing some of the most impressive fish in the Pacific.

-Cathryn Klusmeier, deckhand on the F/V I Gotta

Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust

ALFA has explored alternative funding mechanisms for limited entry and Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) purchase since IFQs were implemented in 1995. 

ALFA helped to found the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT) in 2009 and is currently working with The Nature Conservancy, the Commercial Fisheries and Agriculture Bank and NatureVest to take the program to scale. This innovative financing structure serves to break down the financial barriers faced by emerging fishermen.

Last year, we worked with local fishermen and Ha Aani, the community development arm of Sealaska, to support transfer of a block of sablefish IFQs and limited entry permit from out of state ownership to young Sitka fishermen.  This 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 and ALFA are now working to finalize legal documents to support future transfers and to capitalize the Trust.  

Learn more about ASFT by visiting the Trust’s website.