The Young Fishermen’s Development Act, approved by Congress in late December, was signed into law on Tuesday, Jan. 5, and hailed for giving new support to young fishermen facing lack of support as they try to gain a foothold in the seafood industry.
“Our legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities across the nation by making the next generation aware of the opportunities available in the commercial fishing industry,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.
Other backers of the legislation, including Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, and Sen. Edward Markley, D-Mass, also hailed legislation, which will support regional training opportunities and apprenticeship programs.
Marissa Wilson, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, noted that until now federal programs for young American harvesters have been limited to those who farm and ranch. With fewer young people are choosing to harvest food for a living, investment is needed for young food producers nationwide, she said.
A robust study on the “graying of the fleet” showed that the issue in Alaskan communities is not a lack of interest in the lifestyle, but the amount of resources and knowledge it takes to run a profitable fishing business in the 21st century is formidable, she said. “Investing in opportunities for young fishermen to hone their skills will benefit our local food systems, communities and oceans,” she said. “The grassroots nature of the implementation of this program ensures this.”
Young fishermen seeking entry into the industry in recent years have had to meet new challenges and higher barriers to entry. In some regions commercial fisheries have seen an increase by 10 years or more in the average participant’s age over the previous generation of fishermen, and rural communities have lost 30 percent of local permit holders. Some studies have also suggested that this “graying of the fleet” has led to an increase in financial capital and risk needed to enter into the industry. This legislation, modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, creates the first federal program dedicated to training, educating and assisting the next generation of commercial fishermen.