Many studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” – the average age of permit holders now is nearly 50 –  and the lack of opportunities for young people to launch a career in commercial fishing.   A new measure gaining steam in the Alaska legislature aims to reverse that trend by creating fisheries trusts in which communities could buy permits and lease them, interested fishermen.

 “The goal is to get more Alaskans into commercial fishing – no matter what ages – and that Alaskans should benefit from our fisheries resources as much as possible.”

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka is sponsor of House Bill 188. He likens it to renting a house before buying.

 “Whether they are old or young or in between. The fisheries trust concept is in response to a lot of the research about the graying of the fleet and the fact there are less Alaskans getting into fishing and this seeks to reverse those trends by creating a stepping stone for motivated hardworking Alaskans who know how to catch fish to get their own permit and become independent fishermen by accessing a permit for a few years before making that final life decision to potentially borrow a couple of hundred thousand dollars and buy a permit outright.”

Under the plan, regional trusts could buy or be gifted a maximum of 2.5 percent of the permits in any given fishery, and lease them to fishermen for up to six years.   The fishermen must then buy their own permits if they choose to continue in a fishery. At first, the trusts would be authorized in up to three Alaska regions that choose to opt-in and must be approved by two-thirds of any municipality. Board members would be recommended by cities and boroughs in each region and appointed by the governor.  Several Alaska regions are very interested in the plan, Kreiss-Tomkins says, while others have a more ‘wait and see’ attitude. 

Several Alaska regions are very interested in the plan, Kreiss-Tomkins says, while others have a more ‘wait and see’ attitude.

“That’s totally fine. It’s an opt in and you can self- determine if it makes sense for your region. And I think that element of choice is really important for a fisheries trust.”

Stakeholders include Alaska Native groups, state agencies and fishing organizations from Southeast to Nome, which have spent more than two years developing the idea.

“All of this is still in motion and we are continuing to craft and refine the model to make it as strong as it can possibly be in terms of legality and policy.”

Hearings on the bill began last week.

“ We are hoping to grow the conversation with commercial fishing communities and municipalities around Alaska and with economic development advocates and other stakeholders who would benefit from this tool in their tool box.”

link to the permit leasing bill