One solution to the aging fishing fleet is an up and coming group called the Young Fishermen’s Network. That’s what Alaska Marine Conservation Council organizer and third-generation fisherman, Hannah Heimbuch, spoke about at a ComFish forum called Right to Fish: Challenges and Opportunities in Alaska Fishing Access.
Heimbuch says one of her personal inspirations to become involved in AMCC was attending the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit two years ago.
“I left really inspired to more actively pursue my life as a fisherman. It was great to be around other people my age that had the same interests, were kind of up against the same challenges. And I know that one of the things that I left saying and that a lot of other people left saying was ‘How do we keep this feeling going? How do we stay connected in the years between these great events?’”
Heimbuch says the Young Fishermen’s Network emerged from the desire to keep that passion going, and it began as a listerv and an online community, but now it’s growing into an active group in the real world. She says AMCC wants the Network to connect and empower young fishermen to actively participate in decision-making and to build skills and knowledge that will allow them to move into leadership positions.
And, of course, networking is a big part of the Young Fishermen’s Network.
“One of the most important goals for me that I’m most passionate about probably is building relationships between fishermen from different fisheries, between user groups, and between regions. I really want us to have the connections that allow us to be good communicators in this complex process and make good decisions for a sustainable fishing future.”
Heimbuch says the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network could facilitate fishing fellowship positions, offer regional meetings, and provide a travel fund for young fishermen who want to attend conferences and educational opportunities.
She says AMCC has looked at similar associations for direction.
“We’ve learned some lessons from a young farmer’s group called the Greenhorns, and a few others examples within the agricultural industry, and they’ve done a great job of getting young farmers connected and working together within their industry, and they’ve often started through just opportunities to connect and build community around what they love to do.”
Heimbach says the Network’s most recent initiative was a trip to the East Coast on the Next Generation Young Fishermen’s Educational Tour. She says they went to different fisheries-related events and trade shows in Boston, Maine, New Orleans, and Washington D.C.
She says the most valuable takeaway was the relationships the fishermen built.
“Most of us may never have met, really had a conversation, certainly not have been friends, but by the end of the trip, not only were we not tired of each other, which was what I was expecting, we were a pretty close-knit group that at any time in the future could sit down and have a meaningful conversation about fisheries and our future within it.”
Heimbach says the Network recently received funding for an Alaska fisherman’s almanac. She says it’ll be full of stories, art, and information about the fishing industry and the fisherman’s culture, life, and livelihood.