For decades the federal government has funded programs to help train young farmers, ranchers, even aquaculturists. It was $15 million for this fiscal year and is set at $25 million by 2023.
The nation’s farmers of the sea are hoping for a similar helping hand from Uncle Sam. It’s far smaller– $2 million over six years paid for by fishing fines.
A Young Fishermen’s Development Act introduced earlier this year by Alaska’s congressional delegation is hoping to get some traction.
“Young fishermen not only have to know how to catch fish, they have to keep track of a fairly complex regulatory world in fisheries. And as small businessmen, they also have to be able to make sound decisions about how much money to borrow and how to grow their businesses, when to invest in updates in new technology, improvements to the vessel. There are so many challenges. And while there is a federal program to support training and education for farmers and ranchers and even people going into aquaculture, there’s no comparable program for fishermen or people going into wild capture fisheries.”
Linda Behnken is director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) in Sitka, one of a national coalition pushing for federal options.
The federal grants would be open to associations, tribes, universities and others to train and mentor young fishermen.
ALFA’s crew apprenticeship program is an example. Tara Racine is program director.
“We have the crew apprentice program where a young individual can get out on boats with mentor fishermen. And we also provide some onshore training, such as business and marketing, and sustainable practices and good stewardship. Having a national program like this would build our capacity and allow us to sustain programs like this further. And also, this is a national issue. It is something that’s being faced by coastal communities all over the country.
The Young Fishermen’s Act next goes to the Senate floor said Mike Anderson of US Senator Dan Sullivan’s office and they “are hoping it happens soon.”
Anderson agreed that $2 million is a modest number for our nation’s fishermen but he said “we strongly believe the program has to start somewhere.”