Graying of the Fleet research wins national award

Turning the Tide photo

A woman sets her net in Egegik, Alaska. Photo by Amy Brown/Alaska Marine Conservation Council

Alaska Sea Grant-supported researchers won a national award at Sea Grant Week in Portland, Ore., this month for a study on how to boost access to Alaska commercial fisheries by young and rural residents.

The Sea Grant Association, comprised of Sea Grant program directors from 33 coastal universities, presented its Research to Application award to ASG director Heather Brandon who accepted it on behalf of the investigators for the project entitled, Graying of the Fleet in Alaska’s Fisheries: Defining the Problem and Assessing the Alternatives.

The award honors an individual research project or a body of research funded or implemented by a state Sea Grant program that has elevated public understanding and responsible use of the nation’s ocean, coastal or Great Lakes resources.

The project team lead was led by Courtney Carothers, associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, along with Rachel Donkersloot, Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Paula Cullenberg, retired Alaska Sea Grant director, with graduate research assistants, Danielle Ringer and Jesse Coleman and undergraduate student, Alexandra Bateman, all of UAF.

“Our team is honored to receive this award for research-to-application. The goal of this project from inception was to study the changes taking place in our fishing communities in order to inform future policy. We have been invited to share our results in federal, state, and local venues, where we all have the same goal of better sustaining the next generation of fishermen across Alaska,” said Carothers.

Based on detailed ethnographic research in Bristol Bay and Kodiak, Alaska, and a global review of changes in fishery systems, the research resulted in two recently published articles and a report called Turning the Tide: How can Alaska address the “graying of the fleet’ and loss of rural fisheries access?

It details the ongoing loss of fishing permits and quota from Alaska’s coastal communities and the rising age of quota and permit holders. The report notes that Alaska’s rural fishing communities have shed nearly 2,500 locally held commercial fishing permits since 1975 when Alaska began limiting entry, a loss of over 30 percent of permits originally held by local residents.

Published in December 2017, the study lists several key recommendations on how to reverse this trend, often called the “graying of the fleet.” The researchers gave over 50 public talks on their project, and produced public service announcements that aired on coastal radio stations during summer 2017, as well as seven short videos featuring audio recorded by team members and fishermen.

The videos are available on the project’s website and are posted on the project’s Facebook page in an effort to better support and educate the next generation of fishermen in Alaska.

The full report and other project materials are available at

“Alaska Sea Grant is honored to be recognized for this excellent research that serves the coastal communities of our state,” said Ginny Eckert, Alaska Sea Grant associate director of research.