Young fishermen’s summit courts the next generation

The commercial fishing industry is a huge, networked system of management panels, agencies, biologists, lawmakers, processors, and somewhere in that web — individual fishermen.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program recognizes that fishing is a complicated business to understand, and a challenging one to enter. This year the program is hosting its 6th Annual Young Fishermen’s Summit at the end of the month in Juneau to introduce newbies to the industry.

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It’s not your grandfather’s fishing industry. Alaska is a player in the international seafood market. Many people who think about getting into the game have no clue about what’s at stake, other than just catching fish.

Sunny Rice, with the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, says the Young Fishermen’s Summit is about everything but the water.

“It’s not so much about how to go out and catch fish, or repair your boat, but mostly it’s about, What is the market for Alaska seafood? Why do you see one price at the dock and get a different one in the store?”

Finances are a big part of the summit. Managing a small business, and evaluating the costs of entering new fisheries. The summit takes place in late January in Juneau, at the same time as a meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The IPHC, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, and the Alaska Board of Fisheries all spin the threads that determine size and shape of fishing seasons in the state. Rice says it’s important that young fishermen learn the ropes of talking to these government panels.

They have a workshop just on this topic.

“We do something called a mock Board of Fish. So we’ll have some of our participants play people who are giving testimony, and others who will play board members. We’ve got the light system there, so they can see what it’s like to see how many seconds you have left to testify. We teach them how to best compress your message into that 3 minutes that you’re given.”

And it’s not just the incredibly complicated politics of Alaska fishing. The scientific management strategy is also daunting for newcomers. Rice says the summit incorporates a number of sessions with fisheries scientists, and includes a trip to the Douglas Island Pink and Chum hatchery.

So how old is too old for the Young Fishermen’s Summit? Rice says “young” doesn’t necessarily refer to a participant’s age.

“The bulk of our audience is people who have just bought in. So you’re committed to commercial fishing as a career, and some of these things are new to you.”

Now in its 6th year, the summit is beginning to include presentations from alums — some of the participants from the early years who’ve gotten a toehold in the business, and who have gained a lot of practical experience.

“It’s a great chance to network with some of the people who are already making decisions in the industry,” she says.

The 6th Annual Young Fishermen’s Summit will be held in Juneau over three days, January 27-29.