Reid Williams, 18, assumed his formal education would end with high school. After years of gillnetting on his father’s boat, Williams didn’t see the point in plunking down thousands of dollars for further schooling. After all, he had already found a paying trade.
“A few years ago, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I could just make a living fishing and working on boats, so I don’t need college,’ ” Williams said. “But then my mindset switched … There’s a lot of fishermen that just know how to fish, and I want to expand my horizons. I want to learn what else is out there.”
Now, with the help of a $2,000 scholarship from Cordova District Fishermen United, Williams will be able to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a lighter financial burden. Williams was awarded the 2019 Robert H. Blake Memorial Scholarship for a two-page essay in which Williams argued that the patience and industriousness he had learned gillnetting could be put to use at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
“These days, college is a big expense, and I didn’t want to go a quarter-million dollars into debt getting my degree,” Williams said. “This scholarship helps a lot. Now, I don’t have to worry about going into debt at all — for my first year, at least.”
The Robert H. Blake Memorial Scholarship is CDFU’s top scholarship, followed by the $1,000 CDFU Award and the $500 Steven R. Smith Memorial Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded each year to applicants who submit an essay on how the commercial fishing industry has affected their lives. Successful applicants are chosen by an independent committee.
Beginning in 2019, these scholarships were supplemented by the $1,000 Robert “Sully” Sullivan/Rocky Stone Memorial Scholarship. As well as Reid Williams, 2019 scholarship recipients included Abby Bourgeois, Olivia Carroll, Pepper Marinkovich and Hayden Williams.
Eligibility for these scholarships is limited to CDFU members and their dependents, to permit holders and crew in the Prince William Sound and Copper River area, and to high school graduates and college students who have worked in the area’s commercial fishing industry.
However, the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit Scholarship is open to all fishermen who have worked in the commercial fishing industry for six years or less. This $500 scholarship, established by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, will help send recipients to a three-day crash course in fisheries management.
At the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit, participants network and practice writing and presenting proposals to a mock Board of Fisheries. Held in Juneau, the summit is intended to give new fishermen a wider view of the state’s commercial fishing industry than they’d get from a seiner.
“Going to [the summit] is how I got my start in fisheries policy,” CDFU Executive Director Chelsea Haisman said. “It’s all geared toward helping new entrants to the fishery learn about the ins and outs of the commercial fishing industry.”
Applications are open until Sept. 9 for a summit tentatively scheduled for Jan. 21-23, 2020. The application for the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit Scholarship is remarkably short, comprised of only three questions. It can be found online at cdfu.org/cdfu-annual-educational-scholarship.