National Sea Grant awards funding for training new Alaska fishermen

Alaska Sea Grant and partners were recently awarded over $240,000 from NOAA Sea Grant for a project to train and support new commercial fishermen in Alaska. The two-year project AK On-Board: Young Fishermen Training and Apprenticeship Program will draw upon program strengths from each project partner, including the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, to assist with crew training, apprenticeships, and network-building that will help new crewmembers be successful on the water. 

fishing boats on the water with mountains in the distance
Fishing vessels near Chignik Lagoon. Deborah Mercy/Alaska Sea Grant.

“Young people are the future of our fishing industry, but the challenges to entry are considerable,” explained Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Director Linda Behnken. “This funding will allow us to expand and coordinate the existing programs of project partners to offer Alaska’s young fishermen a springboard to success.”

This project, supported by results from an Alaska Sea Grant-led scoping effort, will take a broad approach to fisherman training. The scoping effort identified six priority learning areas for beginning commercial fishermen, and the AK On-Board project will incorporate two areas of need—marine safety and crew skills—while addressing other areas based on local needs. The program will include events in rural communities in the Southeast, Southcentral, Bristol Bay, and Bering Strait regions. 

“All of us on this project have been working to train young fishermen in various ways for a while now,” said Alaska Sea Grant project lead Gabe Dunham. “Between our programs the pieces are there, and this project is going to help us put them together to create a really impactful training program.”

man pointing to diagram drawn on board in a classroom
Fisheries specialist Gabe Dunham at an AMSEA/Crew Class, UAF Bristol Bay Campus. Photo by Tav Ammu/Alaska Sea Grant.

The program will consist of three components: training, apprenticeships, and networking. Participants will receive applied training in crew and deckhand skills, as well as marine safety. This contribution to the program is based on Alaska Sea Grant’s successful Crew Class, a Bristol Bay program entering its fifth year.

Apprenticeships will facilitate professional relationships between new crew and experienced captains to share valuable experience. This model was developed by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, which has been placing apprentices on fishing vessels since 2015.

The program will also provide networking opportunities, with the goal of creating supportive relationships and cohorts that have the knowledge to successfully engage in the fishery management process. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council will bring expertise from their Young Fishermen’s Network to facilitate the cohesion of young fishing professionals.

“Networking and mentorship in the commercial fishing industry throughout Alaska are highly valued and essential to navigate a successful fishing career,” said Theresa Peterson, Fisheries Policy Director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “This project provides the opportunity to build off long standing support systems for young fishermen in a systematic way.” 

Two men and a woman in discussion
Fishermen prepare to practice testifying before a mock Alaska Board of Fisheries. Photo by Deborah Mercy/Alaska Sea Grant.

Alaska’s commercial fishing fleet employs over 31,000 people statewide, and needs a pipeline of skilled labor. Alaska resident fishermen are of particular importance to the economies of coastal communities, supporting Alaska families, increasing food security, and supporting local businesses and governments year round.

Funding for this project is part of  the Young Fishermen’s Development Act sponsored by the late Alaska Representative Don Young. More information about Alaska Sea Grant’s support for commercial fishermen in Alaska is available on our website.