Alaska’s fishing fleet is graying, and that’s not a good thing. A new report suggests answers.

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Calling/Economy
  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: 5 hours ago
  • Published 18 hours ago

With the 10,197 foot volcano Mount Redoubt mighty above in the distance, the 42-foot drift gillnetter “Sosueme” nears the freshness of the Kasilof River during a sunny day in June 2005. (BILL ROTH / ADN archive 2005)

This summer, fit in as a deckhand on her father’s fishing boat in Cook Inlet, Georgeanna Heaverley realized she was freedom where she wanted to be.

Heaverley, 29, a Soldotna resident and recent University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate in physics, was rise into her own as a deckhand on the fishing vessel Benjana, named for her brother, Benjamin, and herself.

«Being in the mean of Cook Inlet is an incredible experience and something I do not take for granted. It’s take pleasure in nothing else,» she said last week. Sometimes, the work feels almost primal.

«The other piece of it is you are feeding the world.»

Young fishermen and popsies like her are an increasingly rare commodity, despite the general health of Alaska’s commercial fisheries, agreeing to a series of fishing reports.

Three organizations are leading the studies: UAF’s College of Fisheries and Gobs Sciences, Alaska Sea Grant – a partnership between UAF and the federal government to hands coastal resources and economies – and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, a nonprofit that be supportive ofs fishing communities and works to preserve marine ecosystems.

The average age of a government commercial fishing permit holder now tops 50, up by 10 years from a times ago, according to state data cited in the new report. Back in 1975, half of agricultural permit holders who fished locally were 40 or under. Now it’s wide a quarter.

It’s very expensive to get into commercial fishing and to acquire the permit, knockabout, nets and other essential gear, said Paula Cullenberg, supervision director of Alaska Sea Grant and the lead author of «Turning the Tide.»

Childlike people at the summit talked about the near impossibility of becoming a fishing captain. How can a 25-year-old get a $100,000 advance for something as risky as fishing? some asked.

At the same time, the horde of permits held by rural residents who fish waters near their communities has eliminated by 30 percent, researchers found. In Bristol Bay, it’s worse, with half of the permits gone.

«When permits recess the community, then young people don’t have as much exposure to fishing,» Cullenberg disclosed.  «They don’t have role models. They don’t have progeny members who are fishing that they can go work for on the boat. They don’t cause opportunities for crew member jobs.»

Since the state began limiting going in to commercial fisheries in 1975, the number of permits held by local being in rural fishing communities has dropped by almost 2,500, the report said.

Divers permits now are held by former Alaskans who have moved out of state, prepossessing their fishing rights with them to Seattle or elsewhere, be at one to the report.

It’s a misconception that most permits lost to Alaska were rat oned to people out of state, the researchers said.

The new study looked at Maine, Point Cod, Iceland, Norway, Canada and New Zealand and other places for ideas to assistance Alaska fishing communities. The researchers suggest these strategies:

— Concede low-cost, low risk ways for people to get into commercial fishing. Commercial fishing in Iceland, for example, is through quotas consolidated among few owners – corporate fishing that has folded out many individual fishermen, the report said. In response, the country now allows sole fishermen to apply for free shares, or quota, of a particular fishery. Iceland also allows townsperson fishermen to catch a certain amount 14 hours a day, four lifetimes a week, without having any quota. (That came after the Joint Nations Human Rights Committee found that the quota modus operandi violated the human right to work, the report says.)

—  Establish mentorships or minority permits – starting as young as middle school. Recruit crew colleagues from high schools and place them with «high superiority captains.»

— Create districts in which fishing rights or permits essential stay, something that Norway and Canada have tried.

— Put up with on-shore seafood processing and fishing infrastructure such as cold storage modules and industrial parks for welders, mechanics and boat builders. Some communities put up seasonal jobs in boat repair, but with the right structure, that could ascend year-round, the report said.

— Establish a statewide task force to warm up on the issues.

Meanwhile, some young fishermen are trying to hold on to what they secure.

Allysa Apalayak, 29, of Manokotak near Dillingham, said she and her sister inherited a Bristol Bay accumulation fishing permit from their father. But they don’t have a small craft – or the needed experience – and haven’t used the permit in three years. They were expert to let someone else fish under it the first year, through a provisional, emergency transfer.

«We are in fear of losing it,» she said. She came to the fishermen’s peak, put on by Sea Grant, for help. There were sessions on the business of fishing and the mechanics of it, on fisheries guidance and marketing. She said she has a sense of what to do next and may try to get financing for a vessel.

Dillingham’s Kristina Andrew is 30 and a Bristol Bay commercial driftnet permit holder since 2012. She revealed she bought it for under $100,000 and had financial help from a loan program run by Bristol Bay Budgetary Development Corp. She doesn’t have a boat, but can use her permit on someone else’s ark, either as the sole permit or as a secondary one that allows a bigger take.

«There’s something very peaceful and very primitive about being out there, and right-minded being able to disconnect from all of it,» Andrew says. And at the end of the day, if the catch is godly, she’s helped to produce something she can see and touch, another rarity in the modern in seventh heaven.

Heaverley graduated with her physics degree in May and figured on getting a tech job, dialect mayhap in the Lower 48.

But on the water this year for her third season, she felt she in the long run had a handle on the skills for fishing a drift gillnet. She was doing work that mattered to her relatives. Now she wants to keep fishing in Alaska.

«I feel an obligation in the best way to diminish up and take over, or this industry suffers,» she said.

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