By Jessica Hathaway
People talk a lot about the graying of the fleet in the U.S. commercial fishing industry. But everywhere I go, I meet young fishermen, too.
In some ways, getting into the industry is a riskier prospect now than it ever has been. But on the flip side, fishing is safer, and the industry as a whole is more interconnected, more politically active and more technologically advanced than it ever has been. A lot of that energy and enthusiasm is a direct result of inspired new recruits to the fishing lifestyle.
Some youngsters are completely self-motivated, like our 11-year-old cover star Tyler Bourg from Dulac, La. Tyler has been delighted with fishing since he was 4 years old, wearing his first pair of rubber boots on his grandfather's boat. Now he runs his own 28-foot shrimper. Read the full story about this driven and passionate upstart from longtime NF freelancer John DeSantis on page 24.
Tyler's story of youthful enthusiasm is not a new one. I hear all the time from our readers who are fishing their own boats because their parents or grandparents took them out when they were kids and they fell in love with the work. But what is new is a national effort to get kids from non-fishing families connected to the industry — through their stomachs.
Fish to schools programs are helping community leaders bring local fish into elementary schools via the lunch program by replacing the standard fish stick with fresh, local seafood prepared in a healthful way that still suits the palettes of sometimes-picky eaters. The response so far has been phenomenal. Children enjoy eating fish, and even more, they love meeting the fishermen who catch it. Associate Editor Melissa Wood's story about programs that are up and running in states on both coasts begins on page 20.
The youth connection in any industry is critical. In an aging industry, it's that much more important to the future, and not just to establish the next generation to be the recipients of centuries-old traditions, family boats and businesses, but also to institute customer loyalty in the next generation of local seafood eaters.
The amount of imported seafood we eat increases year over year. As the numbers creep north of 90 percent, that trend may seem irreversible. But it's not. We are falling far too short on national efforts to promote American seafood. Creating a fan base with school-age kids is a great step toward introducing healthy, delicious, wild American seafood to the next generation. With any luck, this movement will help keep the next generation fishing.
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