In 40 years of fishing from Point Judith, Rhode Island, and another 12 conducting safety training, Fred Mattera has met many fishermen. Over time, he noticed a change in the crew.
“One of the things I started to see more often was this lack of youth,” said Mattera.
Those he did meet lacked motivation. They didn’t see commercial fishing as a career.
He decided to find some who did. In 2017, he helped launch the Commercial Fishing Apprenticeship Program with $120,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This year, Real Jobs Rhode Island is providing $150,000 to a class of 16 aspiring fishermen who started training on July 2.
In four weeks, apprentices learn about management, stock assessment, cooperative research, and the business of fishing. They spend three days at sea; handle local species in a biology class at the University of Rhode Island; and practice safety drills, rope mending and diesel maintenance. They’re then guided in choosing among local fisheries, including scalloping, trawling, gill netting, lobster and private charters. Graduates receive foul weather gear, a $1,000 stipend and a job.
Zane Maymon, a 24-year-old member of the 2017 class, said fishing had been in the back of his mind while growing up in Narragansett. After struggling with what to do after high school, he saw an ad for the program and applied.
“I liked how it was a cooperation between URI and the fishermen so we get to see the science and research,” said Maymon.
In early July, he was working as a deckhand, trawling for squid on the F/V Enterprise. So far, 10 apprentices are on boats.
“The captains and owners that have them are content, and I get calls probably on a weekly basis, send me more,” said Mattera.