Bill to aid young harvesters introduced in Senate

A bipartisan, bicoastal group of U.S. Senators has introduced legislation aimed at easing financial, business and marketing obstacles facing the next generation of commercial fishermen.

S.1323, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, is modeled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which is credited with preparing hundreds of young farmers and ranchers for careers in agriculture. Young harvesters representing the Fisheries Communities Coalition on all U.S. coasts recently traveled to Washington D.C. to support the bill.

H.R. 2079, the House version of the bill, was introduced in April by Representatives Don Young, R-Alaska, and Seth Moulton, D-MA.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska; Ed Markey, D-MA, and Maria Cantwell, D-WA cosponsored the Senate version.

FCC member organizations, including the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, added their support of the legislation on June 13, as did the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance.

“From what we have seen in Alaska, we believe that the kind of mentorship and training opportunity that this bill would provide is key to helping new fishing operations get off the ground and onto the water,” said Linda Behnken, a veteran longline harvester from Sitka, and executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

“By supporting independent fishermen with this action, we have an opportunity to bolster American food security and the health of coastal communities,” said Hannah Heimbuch, a commercial harvester in Homer who works for AMCC.

“The growin bipartisan momentum behind this bill is very encouraging and shows that leaders in both parties understand that fishermen in today’s world need to know a lot more than simply how to fish,” said John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. This program will give the next generation of fishermen training in fisheries management, business planning and market development tools they’ll need to make a good living brining sustainable seafood to Americans, he said.

The Fishing Communities Coalition, the national voice of small boat, community-focused, commercial fishermen sought the legislation for a federal program dedicated to training, educating and assisting the next generation of commercial fishermen to build successful careers at sea. Along with skills needs for harvest and use and maintenance of gear, young harvesters face the challenge of the costs of entry into fisheries, limited entry level opportunities and financial risk.

The Young Fishermen’s Development Act would include $2 million annual authorization for six years for program implementation. It would provide competitive grants for collaborative state, tribal, local or regionally based networks or partnerships, and mentorship and apprenticeship program to connect retiring fishermen and vessel owners with new and beginning fishermen.

The bill would offer support for regional training and education programs focused on sustainable and accountable fishing practices, marine stewardship and sound business practices. In addition, there would be grants not to exceed a period of three years, with a maximum grant amount of $200,000 a year.