The Fishing Communities Coalition, an association of community-based commercial fishing groups across the country, announced this week that it has gained substantial Congressional support for a program proposal that would support young fishermen.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. Community Fisheries Network photo.The program, called the Young Fishermen’s Development Program, would aim to help young people set on getting involved in the industry — developing ways to teach much-needed business skills to start their own businesses.

“Buying a boat, equipment, a permit and everything else you need to participate in the majority of U.S. fisheries is very expensive,” said Claire Fitz-Gerald, a policy analyst for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, based in Chatham, Mass. “There are a lot of different skills you need to have to maintain a successful fishing business. Some of that can be learned through experience — institutional knowledge that can only be passed on from one generation to the next out on the water. You can learn fishing from a captain while you work as a crew member. But business planning is often something best taught by people in other fields.”

Fitz-Gerald said a federal program would help formalize the way this information is passed down, making sure that future fishermen from any region have access to similar resources. When the coalition was formed just a few years ago, the member organizations saw that getting young people started in the industry was a universal problem that needed to be addressed.

The proposed program is modeled after the USDA’s successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which Congress enacted several years ago to ensure the future of that industry. That program is credited with preparing hundreds of young farmers and ranchers for industry careers.

“The average age of those engaged in the commercial fishing industry, like the farming industry a number of years ago, continues to increase,” said John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. “We must act now to ensure that the next generation of commercial fishermen are well prepared to sustainably harvest America’s seafood and support our coastal communities.”

Over the past several months, fishermen represented by the coalition have met with more than 30 congressional offices to voice their support for the program. The coalition says that those talks have been met with bipartisan support.

“We are all thrilled that this proposal has received such a warm welcome on Capitol Hill,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’ve brought a number of young Alaskan fishermen to Washington to demonstrate the real need for this program and the difficulties facing our industry in recruiting qualified young fishermen.” 

Fitz-Gerald said finalizing a plan for the program and getting a bill sponsored is the next step in the process.

“The next step is making it official. A lot of work has been done in the past few years to outline the program, and now we need to make it a reality. It’s time to stop talking about it and make it happen,” she said.

Fishermen interested in learning more about the program and supporting its efforts should contact the FCC directly about how they can help.


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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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