Eight more young Alaskans have joined the ranks of professional fishermen in Cordova, Haines, Homer, Ketchikan and Sitka.

It’s thanks to a Local Fish Fund that enabled them to buy shares of halibut and black cod. Shares of halibut, for example, can run from $40 to $55 a pound.

“Oh, I’m super excited that it worked out this way. And we were able to move the $1.5 million that was provided to us to invest in new entrants. And all those new entrants come from a range of coastal communities across the Gulf of Alaska, some are for sablefish some are halibut. The loans have a wide range in size, and how much people borrowed and what level they wanted to dive in at. Some are deckhands and some were vessel owners. So I’m really excited with how this has gone for this first tranche of funding.”

Linda Behnken is director of the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a founding board member of the Local Fish Fund.

“We’ve just seen a drop in new, young entrants getting into the fisheries, and we did a bunch of research to understand what was driving that. It’s the cost, it’s the risks, it’s those challenges, and we started working on ideas of how to address that.”

Over a decade a mix of experts – which includes The Nature Conservancy and the Rasmuson Foundation – designed loans that use a flexible “revenue participation” approach where repayments are based on fish landings.

 “The way the loans work is a 10% down payment and the borrower’s risk is shielded to that 10%. And the payments are based on what the borrower makes from fishing their quota. So if the loan is secured only by the quota share their purchasing and their payments fluctuate as the prices of fish or the quota fluctuate. So their risk is really limited and a whole lot lower than if you buy quota and have fixed payments.”  

Fishermen also are given a small break in their loan interest if they participate in local conservation projects, such as electronic monitoring, logging bycatch to avoid hotspots or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear.

Dustin Solberg is with The Nature Conservancy in Cordova  –

 “There are opportunities for fishermen and the scientific community to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment. Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending.”

Fund managers now will take about a year to assess how well the Local Fish Fund program is working out. They already have a list of more applicants, Behnken says, and the goal is to expand the program in Alaska and other areas.

Ultimately, the Fund aims to empower new generations of ocean stewards to regain access to and safeguard Alaska’s fisheries for future generations.

Learn more at localfishfund.org/