Commercial fishing has long been an iconic Alaskan profession. As a fisherman, each day on the water is different and it is absolutely a unique and special kind of work. Fishing demands a unique breed of individual – you must be resilient, optimistic, business savvy, hard-working and tenacious. Modern commercial fishermen must also stand as responsible stewards of the resource, business owners and community leaders. It is a multi-faceted challenge that today’s young fishermen are faced with and at the heart of it all is the need for healthy fish stocks and science based management.
In fisheries, recruitment can be defined as the number of fish surviving to enter a fishery. Recruitment is affected by many factors such as temperature, competition for food, number of offspring produced, and mortality rates. Variability in recruitment is a major driver for changes in fish populations. In today’s commercial fishing reality of increasingly complex and diverse challenges, young fishermen entering into fisheries can be considered as a “recruitment event” that is also affected by many factors. These factors include cost of entry, environmental changes, increased competition for the right to fish, an understanding of management systems, regulation compliance and business management skills.
There is currently a lack of youth both entering fisheries and entering management and leadership positions in fisheries. As a Young Fishing Fellow sponsored by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, I had the opportunity to conduct fisheries policy analysis. The fellowship program was created to support the next generation of fishing leaders by providing mentorship and hands-on-learning through fisheries related projects. Each selected fellow is paired with an organization to help them gain experience and to benefit a local organization. I worked in partnership with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA). ALFA works to promote sustainable fishing and small-scale fisheries through research and policy advocacy.
The fellowship also focused on outreach to educate and engage other young fishermen in fisheries, management, marketing and marine science through participation in forums and programs such as the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit, the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, and ALFA’s young Fishermen’s Initiative. One aspect of ALFA’s Young Fishermen’s Initiative is a crewmember apprenticeship program. This developing program is designed to teach apprentices the intricacies of commercial fishing alongside sustainable fishing practices. Other programs in support of Alaska’s commercial fishing youth include the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, working to establish funding to help young fishermen buy into commercial fishing, and Sea Grant’s Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit, designed to provide training and information for commercial fishermen early in their careers. It is exactly these types of programs that will aid in recruitment, retention and engagement within our commercial fisheries.
I write this from my office of the moment – the galley table. We are anchored in a remote bay in SE Alaska waiting for storm winds to subside so we can head back out to sea and finish our fishing trip.
Happy fishing to you,