Fish Radio

Fishermen numbers drop in AK, still love the job

December 29, 2015

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch … Who will be Alaska’s future fishermen? A snapshot of now – after this —

Bussie Smith, a famous  old-time Boston fisherman

Bussie Smith, a famous old-time Boston fisherman


The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association offers free ergonomics training to seafood processing workers and fishermen to reduce injuries and increase productivity. Visit  to schedule a training at your plant or vessel.

The Alaska Symphony of Seafood is going Beyond the Plate and Beyond the Egg for the 2016 competition. Deadline to enter new products in four categories is January 8

Alaska’s fisheries are the envy of the world and the seafood industry puts more Alaskans to work than any other. Put together, those workers provide our nation with nearly 60% of its wild caught seafood.   But, as biologists would say, there is a lack of recruitment of younger age classes entering into the fisheries.  And the parent classes are leaving, or dying out.

It’s being called a “quiet crisis” by those studying the ‘graying of the fleet’ phenomenon, with a goal of finding solutions. The team includes AK Sea Grant, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the University at Fairbanks. It’s an ongoing multi year project.

Here are some updates  with data from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission:

In 2013, the average age of Alaska permit holders was 49.7 years, up 10 years since 1980.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of Alaska residents under the age of 40 holding fishing permits fell from 38.5 percent to 17.3 percent of the total number of permits.

Small communities have been hit the hardest.  Angoon has only one permit holder under the age of 40, a 90 percent loss from1990 to 2013. During the same time, at Pelican the number of young fishermen fell from 21 to 2. Egegik at Bristol Bay doesn’t have a single permit holder under the age of 40.

Larger communities also reflect the trend. The number of young fishermen in Cordova has declined to 77, a 60 percent loss from 1990.

Bethel’s dropped went from 116 permits to 45. Juneau is home to more than 70 young fishermen, down from 130 in 1990.

Anchorage has seen a near 50 percent drop in young permit holders to 137. Wasilla, Chugiak and Eagle River are some of the few places where the younger fishing ranks have grown.

Meanwhile, the recruitment picture isn’t all bleak. Results of a multi-year study of Kodiak fishermen showed they overwhelmingly love their job and would choose it again. Study author Courtney Carothers is an associate professor at UAF –

Many academics have studied this question and it really shows across the globe that fishermen really value being able to be their own bosses and being in control of their fishing operations. Our study confirmed that.


Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods – who salutes and says thanks to the men and women fishing across Alaska for their hard work and dedication. ( In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.