This month, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Coastal Pines Technical College Foundation announced a new scholarship and endowment program designed to invest in the next generation of Georgia’s commercial fishermen.

The program is intended to address concerns of the graying of the fleet — a national problem in commercial fisheries — and boost participation locally with qualified crew.

“There is a growing concern from commercial fishing vessel owners and dock owners about the lack of trained crew to replace the industry’s participants as they retire and leave the fishery,” said Carolyn Belcher, chief of marine fisheries for the DNR’s Coastal Resources Division. “With this new scholarship and endowment, our goal is to incentivize students to pursue careers in commercial fishing across the Georgia coast.”

The Georgia Commercial Fishing Scholarship offers $5,000 in funds available for immediate distribution. And the Georgia Commercial Fishing Sustainability and Resilience Endowment will start with $20,000 in an interest-bearing endowment overseen by the foundation.

Qualifying Coastal Pines Technical College students enrolled in the college’s Basic Commercial Fisherman Program can apply for funds to cover tuition, equipment, training and commercial fishing licenses.

“This endowment and scholarship will help ensure that this important coastal industry has the workforce it needs for the 21st century,” said Stephanie Roberts, the college’s executive director of College Advancement. “We are proud partners with Georgia DNR and are happy to train the future generations in this staple industry of coastal culture.”

The Coastal Resources Division is providing funds for the scholarship and endowment via a 2019 U.S. Commerce Department disaster aid allocation for a fishery failure that occurred during Georgia’s 2013 shrimp season. During that season, commercial shrimpers saw a 58 percent reduction in harvest.

Julie Califf, a CRD fisheries data specialist, helped oversee the division’s disbursement of $1.06 million in aid, much of which was paid directly to affected fishermen. She noted that the funds could also be used to educate and recruit into the industry.

“One of the things federal rules let you do with the money was job training, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Califf said. “At the time, Coastal Pines Technical College had just started a program to educate students in commercial fishing, and we saw a need to help fund some of the equipment and other financial hurdles.”

For more foundation and scholarship program info, contact Stephanie Roberts.

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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