Investing in future generations of fishermen

by Laine Welch
Sitka is doing something a lot of fishing communities spend a lot of time talking about — investing directly in future generations of both fishermen and fish.
Through a newly formed Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, Sitkans are able to invest in independent, community-based fishermen who are committed to conservation, and reward them through the marketplace. Funding comes from the Oak Foundation, an international philanthropic organization. 
“It has three components,” explained Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “We want to help finance local fishermen to be the next generation of halibut and sablefish quota shareholders, and provide a favorable exit opportunity for people who have quota shares now. We want the next generations to participate in taking care of the resource to make sure it is sustainably protected. And then we want to market that fish to places where people support that conservation ethic, and believe in the communities and the people who catch the fish.
The Trust Funds ALFA’s Fishermen’s Conservation Network, which aims to create cleaner, lower-impact fisheries by combining science with fishermen’s knowledge of marine habitats.
Right now, for example, fishermen are working together to generate three-dimensional, bathymetric maps that identify “bycatch hotspots” for rockfish. That is being combined with survey data and other habitat information from fishery managers.  
“Then it is given it back to the fishermen in a way that protects the confidentiality of their sets (where they are fishing), but shows areas that are consistently high in rockfish bycatch,” Behnken explained.
The fishermen also are working with scientists to record acoustic data from sperm whales that rob halibut and sablefish from their hooks. Quantifying these removals strengthens fishery assessments and ensures that harvest limits accurately reflect fish abundance.
The market arm of the fishermen’s network is called Alaskans Own Seafood, which claims to combine “the best in business with the best in conservation.”
“We are in the early stages of working out the details for customers to pre-order locally caught fish,” Behnken said. “We want to work though our local processors so it strengthens the community as a whole — as well as local fishermen.”
“In Southeast Alaska, we are constantly working on improving the quality of our fish, protecting the fisheries and maintaining healthy fishing communities,” said Sitka fisherman Jeff Farvour.
Behnken added that it is all part of a bigger movement by fishermen to show they are good caretakers of the resources they and their communities depend upon for their livelihood.
“Our halibut and sablefish fleet is very proud of the job they’ve done as stewards of the resource,” she said. “We believe they are best able to address any problems or challenges that come up, so managers don’t have to close big areas to deal with bycatch or other issues.”  
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Crew and skippers connect
A ready workforce is standing by for jobs on Alaska fishing boats and processing plants. Since 1998, the Alaska Fishing Jobs Center has been connecting skippers and seafood companies with crews eager to work. 
“What we ordinarily do if we need crew is call a few buddies to see if they know of anyone, or occasionally hire a green guy. But generally speaking, you’re operating from a really small pool of people,” said AFJC originator/operator Scott Coughlin.
Coughlin is a 24-year veteran of Alaska fisheries from Southeast to Nome. 
“I got to thinking, why shouldn’t every adventurous, motivated job-seeker who dreams of coming to Alaska have the opportunity to directly connect with Alaska permit holders and have a shot at this,” Coughlin explained.
Anyone with an Alaska fishing permit can register for free at the on-line job center.
“If you hold a permit to fish in Alaska, that number is already in the system. All you need to do is enter the last five numbers of your permit card and the check digit, and you’re in,” Coughlin said. “You immediately have access to hundreds of crew job applicants.”
A quick glance at the site shows pictures of a large pool of jobseekers with diverse backgrounds in aircraft mechanics, tours in Afghanistan, students, people looking for a job change or who are unemployed, and several with extensive fishing experience in Alaska.
“It is the only website that draws in skippers and puts the two groups together directly,” Coughlin said. “All I need now are a few hundred more skippers to register so that will absorb the current crop of adventurous, motivated and well-informed crew job applicants.”
The job center is expanding to include a pool of workers for Alaska seafood processing companies. Coughlin said that component will be operational in about two weeks.
Fish is Alaska-grown food
A Farm-to-School Act (HB 70) was passed by the Alaska Legislature this session which will facilitate increased procurement of Alaska-grown food by schools. Sponsored by Rep. Carl Gatto of Palmer, HB 70 creates a program within the state Dept. of Agriculture to give farmers, distributors and brokers more opportunities to sell produce directly to schools.
“Not only would this allow students a better understanding of nutrition, but there’s also an opportunity for Alaska’s farmers and gardeners to develop a dependable new income stream,” Gatto said in a press release.
What about Alaska’s farmers of the sea? No one has yet answered the question if the program includes fish.
At a media teleconference the day after the legislature adjourned, Governor Parnell said he was unaware of the Farm to School Act. The House Majority Press Office responded only that the program “expressly prohibits farmed fish.” Other calls and queries to offices and industry reps went unanswered. 
Does the prohibition against “farmed fish” include Alaska-grown oysters and clams? Will Alaska’s fishermen be able to benefit from this “dependable new income stream” by selling to schools?
No one seems able to answer that question. Meanwhile, the Farm-to-School Act is on its way to the governor for signature.

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Posted by on Apr 28th, 2010 and filed under Fish Factor. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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