In 1975, the average age of fishermen participating in limited entry permit and individual fishing quota fisheries was 40 years or younger. Now, according to a new report by Alaska Sea Grant and the North Pacific Research Board, the average age is 50.
Turning the Tide is the report that outlines the graying of Alaska’s fishing fleet and some possible solutions to the phenomena. Paula Cullenberg is the director of Alaska Sea Grant and helped write the report. She says fishing is a big part of Alaska’s culture.
“The fishing industry, which is so critical to our state’s economy and to our you know really our identity as a state, our identity as coastal communities members. Our ability for coastal communities to remain economically sound, a lot of that really depends on our ability to keep the fishing industry strong.”
To draw more young people to commercial fishing, the report urges the state to explore ways to ease the financial burden on individuals starting out in the industry. Researchers spoke with middle and high school students in the Bristol Bay and Kodiak regions and found money can dissuade people from pursuing a career in fishing.
“The number one barrier that young people recognized and commented on is that it’s super expensive to go fishing. It’s super expensive to buy a boat and buy gear. And then if you have to pay, you know, a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a salmon permit or to buy halibut quota it just makes it very difficult.”
Some of the recommendations listed in Turning the Tide include creating a mentorship program to also help younger people get a start in commercial fishing. Cullenberg says action needs to be taken to address the effects of the graying of the fleet.
“By recognizing now that the fleet of fishermen in our state is aging at a pretty good clip, it’s an opportunity for us to really look at is there something we can do differently to encourage young people to go into this industry.”
Cullenberg doesn’t think the Turning the Tide report is sounding the alarm that Alaska’s fishing industry is about to weaken or collapse. Instead, it’s asking:
“Do we want our fishing fleet of the future to be Alaskans. Do we want them to be coastal Alaskans? What can we do as a state to encourage that so that you know 10 or 20 years down the line we know that yes fishing is still a strong economic force.”
Cullenberg hopes to present the report’s recommendations to strengthen Alaska’s commercial fishing industry to the Alaska Legislature soon, but no formal plans have been made yet.