Opinion: Empower Alaska’s next fishing generation

Alaska has one of the most productive commercial fishing economies on the planet. More than 5 billion pounds of seafood were pulled from the waters surrounding Alaska in 2012. This world-class catch generated $1.7 billion in ex-vessel value and earned Alaska the title of top U.S. seafood producer. We provide more than 55 percent of U.S. domestic seafood production. That’s nearly four times more seafood than the next-largest seafood producing state.
Clearly, there is much to celebrate, but first place doesn’t make us impervious to crisis. Major declines in Chinook returns, shrinking halibut biomass, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, regime shifts, skyrocketing fuel prices, ocean acidification; we have weathered our share of disasters and will continue to combat big challenges. But not all crises come in like a lion. Some arrive quietly, like the steady aging of our fleet.
In 2013, the average age of Alaska fishery permit holders was 49.7 years, up 10 years since 1980. Our rural fishing communities, and our state at large, have yet to feel the full impact of the ‘graying of the fleet,’ but the absence of young Alaskan fishermen filling the ranks is an important harbinger of the crisis to come. Between 1980 and 2013, the number of Alaska residents under age 40 holding fishing permits has fallen from 38.5 percent to 17.3 percent of the total number of permits.
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