The Young Fishermen’s Development Act, modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, has passed the U.S. Senate and now moves to the House for consideration.
The program, to be run through Sea Grant, would provide education, training and grants to help young fishermen needed by the seafood industry to fill the gap crated by the graying of the fleet.
“Right now it is challenging for young fishermen to get into business,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) in Sitka, an advocate of apprenticeship programs for those seeking a career in fisheries. “This legislation will provide education and training. It is something our group helped draft. We are really excited to try to get the act passed. Our (congressional) delegation has been a positive part of moving it ahead,” she said.
ALFA and other Alaska fisheries entities are concerned that the average age of Alaska’s commercial fishermen is now 50 years old, up by nearly a decade since 1980 and that fishery access permits and quota shares. With no single federal program currently in place to train, educate and otherwise assist the next generation of commercial harvesters, ALFA joined forces with the Fishing Communities Coalition, a nationwide fisheries advocacy group, to call for a national program to support young fishermen.
Through the federal legislation, the Fishing Communities Coalition hopes to create training and educational opportunities in the business of fisheries, plus mentorships/apprenticeship opportunities to connect retiring fishermen and vessel owners with those just entering the fisheries and foster a conservation ethic that prioritizes sustainable fishing practices and marine stewardship. Proponents of the legislation see this as a groundbreaking step to protect the stability of coastal fishing communities and the nation’s seafood supply chain.