The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing.
It’s the second year for the Crewmember Apprenticeship program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Over 100 applied last year from all over the country, over half were women, and 13 were placed on local boats.
“It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the industry,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. “You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved.”
ALFA received a $70,000 matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program last year and to help support expansion of similar apprenticeships in Alaska.
“We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve learned and materials we’ve created from this program and give it to anyone interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said.
Most of the recruits last year went out on longline and troll vessels and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule.
“We have short and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an introduction to fishing. We also have plenty of individuals who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.”
The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes.
“The skippers that are interested are looking for reliable crew and want to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen,” she said. “So not only are they training a pool of young people as deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities.”
Longtime salmon troller Eric Jordan has mentored over 40 young fishermen aboard his vessel, the I Gotta. Out on the water, he teaches them the intricacies of commercial trolling and encourages a strong conservation ethic. He calls the apprenticeship program “a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.”
“The future of our fisheries is dependent on young fishermen learning to love and care for the fish we harvest and the habitat essential to their well-being,” said Jordan. “Finding crew with some experience is critical for individual businesses and the industry as a whole. Our generation’s legacy will be defined how we, as Alaskan fishermen, rebuilt and enhanced our fisheries, and how we mentored the next generation.”
Applicants must be 18 or older to apply and the deadline is February 28.