Austin Sollars got his first paid commercial fishing job at 11, baiting hooks on a 74-foot halibut schooner that fished off the Aleutian Islands. Along with his father, he was part of a crew of nine, and he returned home with more than $30,000.
When he turned 21, he took out a quarter-million dollar loan and bought a 54-foot fishing boat, the Jani-K. He catches salmon, halibut and gray cod in southeast Alaska, then heads to the Gulf of Alaska for black cod.
Sollars, 30, is bucking a trend. Fewer young Alaskans are jumping into commercial fishing. A steep financial commitment, competition for fish, long periods away from home and uncertain fish prices play a part in the reluctance to fish.
Sollars last year took a temporary job as a deckhand, and for a few days, could concentrate on the catching without the pressures of the business side.