Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Study, Summit Focus on New Generation of Harvesters

 

January 1, 2018

The Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit saw 85 young fishermen from 32 communities. Photo by Dave Partee courtesy of Alaska Sea Grant.

A new study of Alaska's commercial fisheries identifies factors that have contributed to the graying of the fleet and offers recommendations on how to support participation of young harvesters and coastal communities dependent on them for economic survival.

"Turning the Tide," funded by the North Pacific Research Board and Alaska Sea Grant, concludes that privatizing fisheries access through requirements to purchase permits and quota has created financial and other barriers for the next generation of harvesters, and has especially impacted small rural fishing communities.

Privatization of these fisheries has resulted in the need for increased financial capital and other risks, including a lack of stable markets, the report concludes. Limited entry and individual quota programs have led to a contraction of fishing fleets in communities where fishing rights have been sold or migrated away, affecting access to those fisheries for future generations.

Residents of fishing communities in Bristol Bay and the Kodiak Archipelago identified many social barriers to accessing fisheries. They included a lack of exposure to commercial fishing, lack of experience, knowledge and family connections to fishing, discouragement from pursuing fishing as a career, and substance abuse and related problems in communities.

Those findings are consistent with others worldwide that improve access to commercial fisheries where access has been privatized is needed for young people, small scale fishermen and rural communities to fill jobs now held by harvesters whose average age of 50 years old, is a decade older than the average fisherman of a generation ago.

The graying of the fleet and loss of local access in several important fishery regions of Alaska threatens the healthy succession of fishing as an economic and cultural mainstay in Alaska's communities, and creates a public policy concern for the state, the report said.

To turn the tide, and remove these barriers to entry, the report makes several recommendations, including developing ways to protect and diversify community-based fishing access, including establishing youth permits or student licenses and mentorship or apprenticeship programs to provide young people with exposure to and experience in fishing and a pathway to ownership.

The report also recommends support of local infrastructure to maintain local fisheries, and establishment of a statewide fishing access for Alaskans task force to review and consider collaborative solutions to reverse the trend of a graying fleet and loss of access to the fisheries for rural Alaska communities.

The complete study is online on the project website: http://fishermen.alaska.edu

Even before the study was released in early December 2017, several dozen young fishermen were signed up to attend the 2017 Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit in Anchorage, the seventh and largest such biennial event organized by Alaska Sea Grant.

More than 80 harvesters, from nearly every gear type and mostly from 26 to 30 years of age, gathered in Anchorage Dec. 6, 7 and 8, to learn more about the business side of fishing, from what drives market value and direct marketing to how to participate and navigate through meetings of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

"I admire those who have stayed in this industry and those who are just getting started," said Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who told the young fishermen about his own learning experiences as a young fisherman on Prince William Sound.

"Fisheries are a critical part of the Alaska economy," and Alaska's is the best-managed fishery in the world, he said. "It's a tremendous lifestyle model... You just have to figure it out. You are adding to the future of this state, on a commercial basis."

In answer to questions from the young fishermen, he said that the state can't bring down the price (of entry) but can make financial assistance available to those transitioning into fisheries.

Seafood marketing expert Quentin Fong, a professor on the Kodiak campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, spoke about how Alaska's wild seafood competes in highly competitive world markets, the importance of sustainable fisheries and the need for quality seafood.

Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotton, right, talks with Kiril Z. Basargin, president of Wild Legacy Seafoods in Homer, Alaska, during in the Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit in Anchorage on Dec. 7. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

"Quality is very important in keeping your prices up," he said. "When you have problems of sickness (of the fish) and poorer quality product, then the customer buys elsewhere."

In supermarkets the profit margin is very, very low, so supermarkets are very conservative in how they buy seafood. They don't want to buy any product that is not going to sell," he said.

Jeremy Woodrow of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, who talked about ASMI's role in increasing the market value of wild Alaska seafood domestically and globally, also stressed the importance of quality assurance, plus global factors impacting the value of seafood.

Event sponsors included the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, Alaska Trollers Association, CoBank, Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc., Groundfish Forum, Northwest Farm Credit Services, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, North Pacific Research Board, Princess Crises/Holland America, Rockfish Seafood and Grill and United Fishermen of Alaska.

 
 

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