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Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit Unites Early Career Fishermen

By Lauren Frisch and Deborah Mercy, Alaska Sea Grant

New Alaska commercial fishermen will get a chance to meet and learn with their peers at the sixth Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit coming up in January, 2016. 

The summit, developed by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, has been held five times in the past seven years. The three-day event focuses on training, networking and skill building to manage modern commercial fishing businesses. 

“There were a number of young women from Homer, my home port, that I didn’t know well beforehand. Since the summit we’ve been able to communicate more often and call each other with questions about fishing,” said recent AYFS attendee Hannah Heimbuch. “I am really inspired by this little pocket of strong, energetic women passionate about fisheries.”

Alaska fishing industry leaders volunteer their time and expertise to mentor the young fishermen, and to teach on a range of topics that include business management, seafood markets, the fisheries regulatory process and fisheries science. 

AYFS is geared for fishermen under 40 or within the first five years of their fishing career, attracting between 50 and 70 participants to each summit. 

“I wanted to immerse myself in the community of young fishermen who were choosing this livelihood and see the economic, intrinsic and cultural value of participating in the fishing industry,” said Lange Solberg, a past AYFS attendee and a Bristol Bay fourth-generation harvester. 

Two-time participant Ken Jones, a salmon fisherman from Cordova, said being able to talk with industry experts at AYFS not only gave him the motivation to buy a new boat, but helped him understand the ins and outs of lending and debt management. Because of the opportunity to network with industry experts, Jones is considering attending AYFS for a third time. 

The summit is scheduled to coincide with regulatory meetings in Anchorage or the Alaska legislative session in Juneau so participants can sit in on meetings or meet with their legislators. Participants of the summit learn about regulatory processes and see them in action.

“Going to the summit really catalyzed my desire to be involved in commercial fisheries from all different levels, from making my living as a fisherman to being involved in the political and cultural aspects as well,” Heimbuch said. 

Travel within Alaska is expensive. Fishing vessel owners, fishing associations, government agencies, community development quota groups, and other organizations have provided travel support for AYFS participants.

The 2016 summit is being held January 27-29 in Juneau. It will include a new seminar on vessel maintenance, upkeep and repair. “Although sessions, activities and speakers vary from summit to summit, the fundamental thread of facilitating networking among young fishermen and industry leaders is always a top AYFS priority,” said AYFS co-organizer Torie Baker. 

AYFS has provided a model that has been useful to other Sea Grant programs. Louisiana Sea Grant developed a similar summit geared toward leadership in the Louisiana fishing fleet, although it wasn’t solely for new fishermen. Oregon and Washington Sea Grant agents have attended AYFS and contributed to sessions.

“We get to see immediate impacts when we hear about participants joining boards or testifying at regulatory meetings,” said AYFS co-organizer Sunny Rice. “It is a treat to see them making their own voices heard.” 

For more information on the 2016 Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit, please visit the webpage

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